SiliconFilter

Study: Two-Thirds of Search Engine Users Don’t Want Personalized Results

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According to a new study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, most Internet users are, overall, quite happy with the results they find with their preferred search engines. One thing they don't like, though, is that these search engines are tracking them. Only 29% of search engine users in this study say that it's a good thing that these companies are tracking their searches and other information to personalize their results. A full 65% think that's a bad thing and 73% say that it's not okay for a search engine to track their searches.

Virtually the same numbers also apply to targeted advertising, where 67% say they don't want their online behavior to be tracked and only 28% say that they are fine with this.

Google, of course, has been making a major push by integrating personalized results very deeply into its search results through its "Search, Plus Your World" initiative.

It's worth noting, though, that younger search engine users are somewhat less concerned about being tracked (56%) and about their information being used to personalize search results.

There is also an interesting racial divide here, where 70% of white users are concerned about the so-called filter bubble and think it's a bad thing for search engines to limit "the information you get online and what search results you see." Among black and Hispanic search engine users, that number is only about 50%.

Most Don't Know How to Limit Online Tracking

Even though most people really don't like to be tracked, though, it's interesting that only 38% of respondents in this survey think they know how to limit the amount of information that websites are collecting about them. Most of them, for example, have deleted their web history (81%) and used the privacy settings of websites (75%).

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9:14 am


How to Turn Off Google’s New Personal Results

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Google launched its new "personal results" feature yesterday that now mixes more Google+ posts from you and the people you follow on the service into your regular search results pages. There is a lot of talk about how it's anticompetitive and a sign of Google abusing its legal monopoly in search to push Google+, but the reality is, "search+" as many have come to call it, just isn't very good or useful in most instances. For the most part, it just clutters up your search results with stuff you aren't looking for. Thankfully, Google makes it easy to turn this feature off. Here is how:

The Temporary Solution

Personal results  hide toggle

If you just want to see what your regular results without search+ would look like, you can just use the toggle in the top right corner of the screen. This selection isn't sticky, however, and Google will just revert to Search+ the next time you come back to Google to search (note: you will only see this toggle once Search+ is enable for your account).

If you want to switch the default to non-personalized results, though, you have to do a tiny little bit more work.

Personal results search settings

Going Nuclear

Step 1: head to the search settings menu by clicking on the cogwheel in the top right corner of the screen and click on "search settings"

Step 2: Scroll down a bit and look for the "Personal results" section. Select "Do not use personal results."

Search Settings

Step 3: Scroll all the way to the bottom of the page and click on the blue "Save" button.

Search+ is now off by default, but you can still use the regular toggle to turn it on for this specific search session again.



4:24 pm


Does “Search Plus Your World” Actually Improve Your Search Results? Nope

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There's been a lot of talk in the last 24 hours about how Google may be favoring its own social network Google+ with yesterday's "Search plus Your World" update. Getting lost in this heated discussion is the simple question of whether this update is actually improving the search experience on Google. Google, in its announcement yesterday, said that it is "transforming Google into a search engine that understands not only content, but also people and relationships." After testing the update, though, it feels like Google doesn't quite understand the "people and relationships" part well enough yet to make it such an important part of its flagship product.

To test the update, I decided that instead of just doing artificial searches for the sake of it, I would just go back to my search history and retry a day's worth of searches from last week and compare the personalized and regular results side-by-side.

Too Much Clutter, Too Many Irrelevant Results

Here is my general impression: for the majority of my searches, the personalization didn't really matter, as my online friends never said anything relevant about those queries. Switching between those results and the non-personalized ones yielded virtually the same links.

When the personalization kicked in, though, the search results were now too cluttered with often irrelevant status updates and other digital flotsam. Indeed, as I went through my list, I often found myself wishing that my Google+ friends had nothing to say about that topic.

The Google+ posts that appear in the results are often not really relevant to the search query. They also often include comments (and all those little avatars that go with them), which generally add very little to your search experience.

The Google+ follow suggestions in the sidebar often include people you already follow and this feature just feels like Google is trying to push Google+ a little bit too hard.

Every Google Search is Now an Ego Search

When I search on Google, I want to see new information, not what I did last weekend. The new algorithm puts too much of emphasis on content you created yourself – and especially posts on Google+, of course. When I search on Google, I'm not usually looking for my own stuff and I don't need to see my own photos, blog post or status updates clutter up my search results. Maybe Google could move this into the sidebar, but that wouldn't help its clutter problem either, of course.

Coffee  Google Search  personal

Be Careful Who You Friend

Unless you are very careful about who you friend on Google+, the relevance of Google's new "personal results" can also quickly go down the drain. When we friend people online, we don't do so to improve our search results.

Here is what it comes down to: The fact that we are somebody's "friend" online doesn't necessarily mean that we have common tastes. While there is a high chance that we have something in common that made us connect online in the first place, chances are that this only represents a very small part of our interests and we may only share very little else in common with these people. Until Google – and all the other search engines for that matter, too – are able to understand more of the nuances of our online relationships, social search efforts like personal search will inevitably remain limited and frustrating.

If you want to opt out of the new "personal results," just look for the opt-out toggle here.

 


11:00 am


Google Tweaks Its Daily Deals Service With New Partners and Personalization

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Microsoft’s Bing has been aggregating daily deals from Groupon, LivingSocial and the plethora of their high- and low-end niche clones for months now. It looks as if Google, which runs its own Google Offers service, too, is moving more towards aggregation now, too. Starting in San Francisco, Google Offers now aggregates deals from Dealfind, DoodleDeals, Gilt City, GolfNow, HomeRun, Juice in the City, kgbdeals, Mamapedia,Plum District, PopSugar Shop, ReachDeals, Active.com Schwaggle, TIPPR and zozi. This, according to Google, will allow its users to easily purchase deals from all of these services with just one account (using Google Checkout, of course). Google plans to roll this service out to more cities “in the months to come.”

An End to Irrelevant Deals

In addition, Google is also adding some personalization features to Offers. After taking a short quiz (asking you if you want to get offers related to pets, for example), you will never have to see another offer for a portrait session or glass blowing class from Google Offers again. Google Offers is currently available in 17 cities.

Indeed, the fact that most of the offers I’ve been receiving lately have been completely irrelevant to me (really? another massage with aromatherapy?) has made me unsubscribe from quite a few deals services lately. Adding personalization – especially now that Google is working with more partners – simply makes sense and may just make daily deals a bit more relevant to many users as well.

Are Daily Deals Slowly Fizzling Out?

Overall, it feels as if the daily deals market is slowly contracting as the novelty wears off and users start to get tired of the daily barrage of emails with offers for cheap yoga sessions, weight-loss packages, mattresses and pizza (that’s the last five days of LivingSocial deals in my area right there). Maybe by targeting offers a bit better than others, Google can reverse this trend for a while, but I doubt we will ever see a return of the Groupon mania of early 2011.



4:59 pm


Google News: Now with Stronger Focus on Personalization, Video and Variety

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Google just announced an interesting update to its news aggregator Google News. The service now defaults to displaying stories in a one-column layout and puts a stronger emphasis on personalization (with an expanded personalized top stories section at the top of the page). Other new features on the site include more multimedia elements when you expand a story box, as well as the ability to see if additional links are opinion pieces or more in-depth articles.

The new version of Google News should roll out in the U.S. today. Google did not announce when it plans to bring this new version to other countries.

google_news_story_expanded

Overall, these updates fit in well with the general developments we have seen from news aggregators in the last few months. Given the recent focus on personalized news experiences through services like Flipboard and Zite, it only makes sense for Google to also expand this section in Google News. By displaying six personalized articles by default (up from three), Google says that it will present its users with “more topic diversity.”

It also makes sense for Google to expand the multimedia elements on the news page, especially given that most news sites now try to add videos to many of their stories.



10:17 am