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


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


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

Google Launches Major Update that Will Impact 1 Out of 3 Searches


Google today announced a wide-reaching update to its search ranking algorithm that will impact about 35% of all search queries. This improved algorithm will put a stronger emphasis on how recently a page was posted or updated. As Google puts it, “Search results, like warm cookies right out of the oven or cool refreshing fruit on a hot summer’s day, are best when they’re fresh.” Today’s update, says Google, will especially ensure that you will get more relevant results for searches related to recent events, regularly recurring events (think annual conference, elections, sports scores, information about TV dramas etc.) and when you search for topics where information is frequently updated (Google uses car and gadget reviews as examples here).

Bigger Than Panda

It’s worth noting that this update should be more noticeable for users than the so-called Panda updates Google rolled out earlier this year in order to combat the growing influence of low-quality pages from content-farms like Associated Content and Demand Media. The first of these updates, according to Google, only affected about 12% of all queries “to a noticeable amount” and a second, smaller update, changed about 6-9% of all queries.

Here is an example of what these fresher search results will look like when you search for a recent event:

It’s no secret that Google is obsessed with speed. While getting search results to users faster is one way of making search better, having more recent search results to begin with is obviously another way for Google to make its ten blue links more relevant. Google will have to ensure that its new algorithm doesn’t value freshness over relevance, though.

5:25 pm

Google Business Photos: New Indoor Street View Images Go Live


After a long period of rumors and denials, Google officially announced its Google Business Photos program (a.k.a. indoor Street View) earlier this year. While Google put the first set of businesses online soon after the announcement, we didn’t hear much about this project since. Now, however, it looks as if more and more of these indoor, Street View-like images are going online. You can find some examples here and here.

When Google first announced this program, the company stressed that it was mostly interested in working with independent local merchants. Merchants also had to apply to be included in this program. True to form, the new indoor Street View images come from small, independent stores, including the comic book store you can see below.

Google Maps indoor comics

Interestingly, it doesn’t look as if these images are linked to the larger Street View and the surrounding streets, though. Instead, the only way to get to them right now, it seems, is by going through the business’ Place Page. It would be nice if Google made finding these images a bit easier.

As one business owner pointed out on Hacker News earlier today, the total visit from the Google team took about 20-30 minutes (though things didn’t go right the first time around and they had to come back).

It’s worth noting, by the way, that Microsoft’s Bing has been offering interior views of some businesses since last December.

Google Maps indoor

5:56 pm

Mozilla Launches Custom Firefox Version with Bing as Default Search Engine


Since its earliest days, Firefox always used Google as its default search engine. Chances are, this won’t change anytime soon, but a short little announcement on the Firefox blog this morning will surely get some pundits to speculate if Microsoft’s Bing could one day become the browser’s search engine of choice. That’s because starting today, Mozilla will offer a custom version of Firefox with Bing to its users. This custom version uses Bing as the default search engine in both the search box and the “AwesomeBar.” will also be the default homepage and chances are that Microsoft and Mozilla have worked out a way to split revenue from this venture, though the official announcement doesn’t make any mention of this.

Bing has been a search option for Firefox since last October. Mozilla clearly doesn’t want you to read too much into this announcement. In its blog post, the Firefox team notes that there are “nearly 20 customized versions of Firefox distributed globally by partners including Bing, United Internet, Twitter, Yahoo! and Yandex.” Bing then is just another one in this series of custom versions and I doubt the Twitter or Yahoo versions of Firefox are seeing record downloads (just try finding them in the first place).

Given that Google’s Chrome is quickly gaining market share, though, and has now become a formidable competitor for Firefox, it’s hard to imagine that the folks over at Mozilla haven’t thought about switching allegiances to Microsoft. I doubt this will happen anytime soon, though, as Mozilla currently needs the income its gets from Google to survive. If Microsoft decides to match this, though, things may change, of course, and maybe this custom version is just a way of testing what that cooperation would look like…

4:43 pm

Google + Now Open for Everyone – Gets Search and Better Hangouts, Too


Google just announced that it is taking its new social network Google+ out of its semi-private field trial today. Google+ is now in an open beta and anybody with a Google account can now sign up without the need for an invite (though Google Apps users still can’t get in). As part of this, Google is also making a plethora of new features available today. Among these are a number of new features for its Hangout video chat service and new tools for mobile users. Google is also finally making it possible to search through old Google+ posts.

New Features: Mobile Hangouts, Screensharing, Collaboration, API

The area that is getting the most attention today, however, is Google’s Hangout feature. Among other things, it is now possible to use hangouts on the go (Android-only for now, though support for iOS is coming soon). Users in a Hangout video chat can now also share their screens, draw an a shared sketchpad and write on shared Google Docs. Google also announced a new “Hangouts on Air” feature today, which will soon allow anybody to broadcast and record their hangouts and share them with an unlimited number of viewers.

Google is also launching a basic API for this tool.


As for the search feature, Google will now let you search through both public and private posts. It’s not quite clear how Google is ranking these search results, but Google is clearly trying to rank posts by relevance as they are not ordered chronologically. It’s good to see that the company is finally making this feature available. Given Google’s expertise in search, the omission of a search feature for Google+ was always a bit puzzling.

Search google plus

New on Mobile: Post by SMS; Goodbye Huddle, Welcome Messenger (With Photo Sharing)

Among the other interesting new features for mobile users is the ability to use text messaging to post to Google+. This feature is currently only available for users in the U.S. and India, but more countries should follow soon. To get started with this, just verify your phone number in your Google+ settings.

Huddle, the group messaging feature that was only available in the mobile Google+ clients for Android and iOS is now being renamed “Messenger.” Besides renaming the service, Google is also adding one cool new feature to it: photo sharing. When you are in a group chat, you can now upload photos from your phone directly into the chat.

hangouts on air

100 New Features Since Launch

With these additions, Google today announced, the company has now released 100 new features since the initial launch of Google+ earlier this year. All of these new features will roll out globally over the next few days.



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4:10 pm

Bing: What’s More Evil Than Satan Himself? 10^100


Not too long ago, hiybbprqag wasn’t much of a word, but as Google employee Andy Arnt noticed today, if you search Bing for it these days, you will find that it is an “orcish” word meaning “whiner.” Unless you’ve been closely following the search engine competition between Microsoft and Google, this probably doesn’t make much sense to you, but this little easter egg is actually quite funny.

Update: Looks like Microsoft has removed these search results now.

Here is why: Earlier this year, Google alleged that Microsoft’s Bing search engine was copying its search results. To prove this, Google inserted fake search results for nonsense words like hiybbprqagindoswiftjobinproductionand mbzrxpgjys into its index and, indeed, the fake search results later appeared on Bing.

Google then went public with the findings of its sting operation and publicly accused Microsoft of piggybacking on its search results. Microsoft argued that there is perfectly good reason for this: users who opt-in to sharing anonymous data with the company (including the fake Google users who searched for these terms), will share this data with Bing and the search engine will hence use it. Hiybbprqag  Bing

What’s More Evil Than Satan?

Besides the new definition for “hiybbprqag,” Arnt also found that Bing now defines the search for “more evil than satan himself” as 10^100 – a Googol, the word the Google founders used as the basis of their company’s name. The story behind this actually goes back all the way to 1999, when one of the first successful Google bombing campaigns (the great-grandfather of today’s catapulted Microsoft’s homepage to be the top search result for this query on Google. The big difference between a Google bombing and these results, though, is that these definitions were obviously chosen by the Bing team and not the result of an errant algorithm. Bing evil google

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9:33 pm

Live Blog: Google’s Inside Search Event


Google is hosting a small media event in San Francisco this morning. It’s not clear what Google plans to focus on during this event, but the last time the company hosted a similar meeting, it announced Google Instant.

The only thing we know about today’s event is that Google Fellow Amit Singhal will be among the presenters. Singhal’s research interests include speech retrieval, question answering and automatic text summarization. All of these sound like potential candidates for interesting new search products from Google.

To find out more about Google’s announcement, tune in for our live blog at 9:30am PT, 12:30am ET, 18:30 CET or watch the live video stream here. (more…)

3:51 pm

Google Gets a Musical Doodle in Honor of Les Paul


Google tends to feature a few different of its trademark doodles on its homepage every week, but every now and then, the company goes all out and does interactive doodles. This week, the honor to be featured in one of these goes to Les Paul, the legendary musician and inventor Les Paul who passed away in 2009. The Les Paul doodle is an interactive guitar that – if you look closely – somewhat resembles the Google logo. What makes today’s doodle special is that it’s not just interactive but that you can also record your own songs with it.


4:28 am

Google Maps for Mobile Browsers: Now Better Than a Native App


Google Maps for mobile browsers on iOs and Android now features almost all the features of the desktop version.

When you compare the features of the Google Maps-based mapping app on the iPhone with the Google Maps desktop experience, it quickly becomes obvious how many feature are missing from the native app. There are no layers, no biking directions, no photos and no integration with Google Places, for example.  Google constantly adds new features to Maps, but the native app on the iPhone hasn’t seen any major update for ages. Indeed, there are some rumors that Apple is developing its own maps and mapping apps and could soon drop Google as its main mapping provider.

Now, however, the mobile version of Google Maps that runs in the browser is getting virtually all of the features the desktop version currently offers. There are clickable icons for businesses and transit stations, biking directions and layers, integration with places most of the other features you’ve gotten accustomed to on the desktop. Overall, the web-based version of Google Maps – especially on iOS – is now better than the native app. On the one hand, that showcases the power of web apps, but it also highlights how out of date the native Apple ‘Maps’ app has become.


Here is a list of all the new features:[list]

  • See your current location
  • Search for what’s nearby with suggest and auto complete
  • Have clickable icons of popular businesses and transit stations
  • Get driving, transit, biking, and walking directions
  • Turn on satellite, transit, traffic, biking, and other layers
  • View Place pages with photos, ratings, hours, and more
  • When signed into your Google account, access your starred locations and My Maps[/list]

Thanks to the wonder of modern web technologies like HTML5, using the web-based version of Google Maps doesn’t feel very different from using the native apps. The new features actually make it more useful than the native app. You can now, for example, tap on a business’ name on the map and immediately see reviews, call the business, get directions or see more details on the respective place page. The only feature I’ve always missed in the web-based version has been the ability to double-tap on a map to zoom in. That’s still not an option today.

9:55 am

Google Autocomplete Gets Enhanced Predictive Powers


Google just announced an update to its autocomplete feature, which speeds up the search process by showing predicted searches while you type. Until now, Google mostly based its predictions by looking at the most popular searches. The problem with this, Google points out, is that the majority of search queries have never been typed in before and hence didn’t show any predictions. Now, however, Google is expanding this feature by “improving the predictive powers of autocomplete” for these seldom used queries as well by just looking at the last part of the query.

By just focusing on the last part of the query, this is obviously not as helpful as autocompleting longer queries, but will likely save users some time in the long run.

Google is rolling this new feature out today on in English and will expand it to other languages and locales over time.

1:26 pm

Google Talks About Its Spam Problem: "Search Quality is Better Than it Has Ever Been" – But We Can Do Better


For a while now, one of the most persistent memes in the tech world is that Google is suffering from a major spam problem and that the quality of its search results have suffered greatly from this. Google today took its critics head-on in a post on its official blog. According to Google’s Matt Cutts – the face of the company’s anti-spam policies – “Google’s search quality is better than it has ever been in terms of relevance, freshness and comprehensiveness.”

Cutts also notes that Google is anything but passive about spam and is more than aware of the fact that others are trying to game its index. According to Cutts, the search team has also recently launched a “redesigned document-level classifier” that is better at detecting spam on individual pages. The company is also currently in the process of evaluating other changes to its index that will mainly affect sites that just copy others’ content.

Matt Cutts

Matt Cutts. Image via Wikipedia

Most interestingly, Google is looking at giving its users more ways to “give more explicit feedback about spammy and low-quality sites.” Cutts didn’t go into any details as to what this could look like, but it’s easy to imagine an explicit “report this link as spam” link on Google’s search results pages. If you install this Chrome plugin, you can already report spammy links to Google today.

Specifically, Cutts also addresses the question whether Google keeps spammy sites in its index because they serve Google ads. His response: [list]

  • Google absolutely takes action on sites that violate our quality guidelines regardless of whether they have ads powered by Google;
  • Displaying Google ads does not help a site’s rankings in Google; and
  • Buying Google ads does not increase a site’s rankings in Google’s search results.


10:20 am