Google has flipped the switch on its most fundamental integration yet of its search system and Google+, fusing the social platform with its core search service.
Google's Amit Singhal has explained a new feature in Google search that will integrate results from a person's Google+ network. Image credit: Stephen Shankland/CNET News
Over the next few days, Google search users who are logged into their Google profile will be able to turn on a feature called 'Search plus Your World', the company said on Tuesday. The functionality skews search results in favour of content from Google+, giving added priority to photos, posts, pages and profiles from the service.
"Search is pretty amazing at finding that one needle in a haystack of billions of web pages, images, videos, news and much more. But clearly, that isn't enough," Google fellow Amit Singhal, who heads up the company's ranking algorithm team, said in a blog post.
"You should also be able to find your own stuff on the web, the people you know and things they've shared with you, as well as the people you don't know but might want to... all from one search box," Singhal wrote.
Singhal also said that the planned 'Search plus Your World' was a major reason why Google turned on encrypted search by default for logged-in users last year. He said this SSL encryption was necessary to protect the private and user-specific results that the revamped search service will throw up.
Google search results have already, for some time, been subtly tailored according to the search history of the user requesting them, as long as that user has not disabled the company's cookies.
However, Tuesday's move takes that customisation to a new level. A search for a holiday destination might prominently bring up Google+ posts and photos from a contact on that network who has visited the place in question. Searches will even bring up private photos from the searcher's own Google+ and Picasa accounts, based on captions, comments and album titles.
Singhal gave the example of his pet dog, named after the chikoo fruit. Using 'Search plus Your World', he said, he can use one search to find both references to the fruit and privately shared photos of the animal. He also used the case to demonstrate that personal and global results can be toggled on and off.
"This is search that truly knows me, and gives me a result page that only I can see," Singhal wrote. "And while I get a nice mix of personal results with results from the web, I can also click the link at the top of the results page for the option to search only within my world."
Once they are able to see the changes, users will find that typing the first few letters of a Google+ contact's name in the standard Google search bar will bring up that contact's profile as a top result, using autocomplete.
The same autocomplete feature will also bring up results for "various prominent people from Google+, such as high-quality authors from our authorship pilot programme", Singhal said. The user can then add that profile to their own Google+ circles.
This is search that truly knows me, and gives me a result page that only I can see.– Amit Singhal, Google
Users searching for a term will also start to see a new right-hand column showing what 'prominent' Google+ users and pages are saying about that topic. For example, a search for 'music' may bring up a post snippet from a Britney Spears fan page.
Singhal was keen to stress the optional nature of the new service. He highlighted the toggle that can turn off personalised results, noting that the choice only works for an individual search session but could also be made default in search settings.
"We also want to be transparent about how our features work and give you control over how to use them," he added. "With today's changes, we provide interface elements and control settings like those you'll find in Google+. For example, personal results are clearly marked as Public, Limited or Only you. Additionally, people in your results are clearly marked with the Google+ circle they are in, or as suggested connections."
Google chief Larry Page said in October last year that the company was embarking on a mission to integrate Google+ with all its services, in an attempt to create something "magical".
"This means baking identity and sharing into all of our products, so that we build a real relationship with our users. Sharing on the web will be like sharing in real life across all your stuff. You'll have better, more relevant search results and ads," Page said at the time.
The project began in earnest at the start of November, when Google excised the social parts of its Reader product and replaced them with Google+ functionality. YouTube and Chrome got the Google+ treatment a few days later, and Gmail was tied to the social platform in December.
Google+ is also deeply integrated into the recently-released 'Ice Cream Sandwich' (ICS) version 4.0 of Android, Google's mobile platform.
However, search and its associated advertising revenue are Google's main moneyspinners, and the markets in which the company is the indisputable leader.
The company has 80 percent of the global search market, according to the most recent statistics from Netmarketshare. Its closest competitor, China's Baidu, is on 10 percent. Microsoft's Bing is on just three percent market share, although the Bing-powered Yahoo is on six percent.
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