Google search: This time it's personal

Google is now taking your Google+ relationships and information into consideration when you do searches. Here's how it works and how to use it.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

Welcome to the new personal Google Search

Welcome to the new personal Google Search

Well, we saw this coming. Google is integrating its social networking site, Google+ and its photo-sharing site Picasa with Google search. What this means is that in "Search, plus Your World" when you do a Google search your results will be personalized for you.

Specifically when you do a search you'll see:

1. Personal Results, which enable you to find information just for you, such as Google+ photos and posts-both your own and those shared specifically with you, that only you will be able to see on your results page;

2. Profiles in Search, both in autocomplete and results, which enable you to immediately find people you're close to or might be interested in following; and,

3. People and Pages, which help you find people profiles and Google+ pages related to a specific topic or area of interest, and enable you to follow them with just a few clicks. Because behind most every query is a community.

Not everyone can see this new search method yet. Google is still rolling it out.

You should also take note that these "personalized" search results only pays attention to your Google+ social circles. If you wanted results that reflected your Facebook friends and interests, you'll need to use Microsoft Bing. Other social networks, such as Twitter, aren't as closely integrated, and they are not happy about it. Indeed, you can expect to see a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) investigation of the Google-Google+ connection sometime soon

That's all interesting but what is this new style of search actually going to mean. For starters, it's not going to personalize your search results to reflect your previous searches. Google's been customizing search results for years now.

If that's news to you, here's how it works. Say, you often search for Windows and "Mary Jo Foley" and "Ed Bott," since they're your favorite Microsoft journalists. Now say one day you search for Windows and Metro, Windows 8's new interface. Chances are your Google search results will show up stories by one of those two writers even if you hadn't included their names.

What's different now is that when you're signed into Google+ and you do a search besides your usual results, you'll also get personalized results from your Google+ network of friends, family, and co-workers. The idea is that when you do a search you'll want the results that matter most to you. So, for example, with Google Instant on , which starts searching on it's best guess on what you're hunting for based on each character as you type it in, when I key in "Esther," my "personal" results are for my good friend and fellow writer Esther Schindler, starting with links related to her Google+ account.

Google Search Plus for a friend

Google Search Plus for a friend

This method of search is especially handy for finding your friends and what they're up to. One handy feature is that this kind of search brings up everything that your friends allow you, but not the world, to see. Say you did an ordinary search for a friend's new baby photos if they've placed them in a private circle, you won't be able to find them. But, if you're in their friends and family circle, you will be able to find them even though others won't be able to find or see them.

This isn't just for personal matters. Say you set up a Google+ circle for a project. With this new search method, you can not only share your notes and comments with each other, you can do a quick search to say who did write what a month ago.

But, while being able to search your Google+ social network is handy, this is more than just bringing search to a social network. Let's say I search for Mint, one of my favorite Linux distributions. Because Google knows me, it first shows me the site for Linux Mint instead of the Mint personal finance site. Google also now marks my personalized Search, plus your World results with a blue icon on the top left of the search result.

Google Search Plus for Mint Linux

Google Search Plus for Mint Linux

The also makes it easy for me to say what my Google Plus friends and colleagues think about a specific topic So, for example, when I look for Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) stories, I see my own printable words on this annoying proposed law and results from people in my Google+ circles. In this case, I've also set my search so I'll only see the results from my personal circles.

Google Search Plus for SOPA

Google Search Plus for SOPA

To flip between all and personal results, look at the right of the on page upper-left Search logo. There you'll see a toggle between personal and all results.

Let's say though that the last thing you want is to see personalized results. I'm not sure why you'd feel that way but I know some of you do. Anyway, the cure is easy: Since to even see the results in the first place you need to be logged into Google, just head to your Google Search Preferences page and hit the radio button for Personal results to "Do not use personal results" and you're done.

As for me, I'll be using Personal search from here on out as my default. I'm already finding it darn useful. If you're also already a Google+ user, I think you will too. If you're not in Google+ yet, well I think this new search style to be useful enough that I'd consider joining Google+, and getting my friends and family to join me there just for this feature alone in addition to all the many other good reasons to join Google+.

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