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


Linked Pages: Bing Now Lets You Curate and Highlight Links that Are About You

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Google may have Google+, but Bing has a close relationship to an ever bigger and more important social network: Facebook. While Google now highlights your Google+ profile when people search for you, Bing has been showing Facebook profiles in its search results for quite a while now. With its new “linked pages” tool, however, Bing is now taking this concept a bit further. Bing now also lets you choose which of your social networking profiles and websites will be featured in a special box at the top of its search results pages when people search for your name. According to Bing, appropriate sites would also include your city, school or employer, for example. This feature is only available in the U.S. so far.

Given that Google has been widely criticized for putting too much emphasis on links to its own social network, it is worth noting that Bing uses your Facebook profile as its main result and then highlights the other pages you curate underneath that. Your Google+ profile, of course, can be one of these links, too.

bing_appear_001

Link to Me

Thanks to its close relationship with Facebook, it’s no surprise that Bing uses the social network as the basis for this tool. You use it to log in to Bing to customize your links, for example, and you can also post newly linked sites to your Facebook profile as well. To prevent you from spamming your friends with new links, only the first link of the day will be posted in your Facebook timeline.

The Bing team has decided to go one step further, though, and also allows others to make suggestions for sites you could be connected to. This linking isn’t automatic, though, and Bing will always ask you for permission first.

You can, of course, always remove a link as well.

linked_pages

Getting Started

Here is how all of this works in practice:

You first log in to Bing’s Linked Pages tool (using your Facebook credentials). Then, Bing will display all the pages it found about you and then lets you choose which of those links are really about you (and not about somebody you share a name with).

Similarly, you can search for your friends (assuming you are also their friend on Facebook) and then suggest sites that are linked to them.

Video

You can see the feature in action below (narrated by an oddly infomercial-sounding Stefan Weitz):

<a data-cke-saved-href="http://video.msn.com/?vid=649129a0-2e8a-40c8-87cc-4c3b003a7dbf&mkt=en-us&src=SLPl:embed::uuids" href="http://video.msn.com/?vid=649129a0-2e8a-40c8-87cc-4c3b003a7dbf&mkt=en-us&src=SLPl:embed::uuids" target="_new" title="Make a Good Search Impression with Bing’s Linked Pages">Video: Make a Good Search Impression with Bing’s Linked Pages</a>



10:15 am


Google’s Flight Search Goes Mobile

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Google today launched its flight search feature for mobile browsers. Since it acquired travel software provider ITA Software in 2011, Google has been very deliberate about rolling travel search into its main search engine. It first launched relatively limited version of its ITA-based stand-alone flight search feature in September 2011 and then integrated this tool deeper into its regular search results in December. Now, whenever you feel like taking a trip, you can also use Google to search for flights on your Android and iOS phones as well.

Mobile, But Still Limited

This means, you can now use the regular search feature in the browser on your phone to look for something like [flights from New York to Washington] and bring up the mobile flight search feature.

This new feature brings most of the desktop version's tools to the mobile version as well, including the ability to discover places on a map and the ability to find the cheapest dates to travel.

Even on mobile, Google's travel search tools is still the fastest in the business, but at the same time, though, it also suffers from the same limitations as the desktop version. You can't use a search query to specify specific dates, for example. If you do so, flight search won't even kick in. Flight search also still doesn't work for international destinations.

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3:20 pm


The Google Doctor Will See You Now: Google Improves Results for Health Searches

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Google search is no substitute for actually visiting a doctor, but millions of people use the search engine to look up symptoms every day. Now, Google is making it a little bit easier to connect these symptoms with actual health conditions. The search engine will now automatically display a list of possible illnesses automatically when you search for a common symptom.

In it research, Google found that most searches for a symptom are followed by a search for a related condition. To save its users some time, the search engine's algorithms now automatically discover the kinds of conditions are related to certain symptoms.

health search symptoms on google

According to Google's chief health strategist Roni Zeiger, it's important to remember that this list is generated by algorithms and not authored by doctors.

It's worth noting that Microsoft's Bing, in partnership with the Mayo Clinic, has featured support for enhanced health search results for more than two years now.



10:13 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


Don’t Want Google to “Correct” Your Searches? You Can Now Search Verbatim

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Until earlier this year, you could do a Google search and use the ‘+’ operator in front of any word to make sure that Google would search for this specific term. Now that Google is moving towards using ‘+’ as a way to find Google+ profiles, though, this option is gone. Instead, Google asked users to use double quotes to ensure that none of Google’s usual corrections, personalizations or other changes are applied to this term. Now, however, after some vocal opposition against the disappearance of the ‘+’ search operator, Google is introducing a new tool that brings some of this functionality back: verbatim search.

verbatim_search_find_itThis new tool will be rolling out to all Google users over the next few days. Once it’s available for you, it will hide in the side bar, though, where you will have to click on “more search tools” and then look for it at the bottom of the list.

While few users are likely to really need this tool, it’s nice to have it as an option, though just adding quotation marks around a term seems to be a bit easier than clicking through to the “more search tools” option.

Algorithm Changes Coming, Too

Google also acknowledged that it plans to make some changes to when its “query broadening search improvements” triggers, which seems to be an admission that its current algorithms sometimes go overboard in trying to correct or broaden search queries.



6:46 pm


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

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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


Wajam Wants to Make Your Social Search More Social

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Social search is, without doubt, one of the hottest topics in the search engine business today. Google and Microsoft have made it the central focus of their latest search engine features and numerous small players are also trying to get a foothold in this nascent business. Among these smaller players is Wajam, a Canadian startup that lets you easily add social search results to virtually all of the majorsearch engines and shopping sites you use today, including Google, Bing, Amazon, Tripadvisor, Wikipedia, and Yelp.

The idea behind social search has always been intriguing, as there is, after all, a good chance that the links your friends share online are more relevant to you than other links. To make this really work, though, a social search engine needs to be able to easily tap into all your social networks, not just either Twitter or Facebook. That’s where Wajam shines. It lets you connect to all your favorite social networks and then indexes all the links (and the content of the pages these links point to) that your friends have shared. Then, when you search, it transparently pins these results at the top of your regular search results on your favorite search engine.

Among the nifty features here are the ability to also add your Google+ account and search through it – something that Google still doesn’t let its users do. You can also filter results so you just see photos or just the links a specific person has shared. Earlier this month, Wajam also added a location feature, which lets you easily see who of your friends live in a given city and what places your friends have liked there.

Earlier this week, I talked to the company’s founder and CEO Martin-Luc Archambault. According to Archambault, his team mostly consists of engineers, as the company runs its own servers and has to not just pull in a very large amount of data (my friends, for example, have shared more than 3.5 million links) but also rank it. The ranking, indeed, could still use some tweaking, but in general, the search results are relevant, though the best ones are often under the fold (by default, Wajam only shows one result).

Overall, though, Wajam has turned out to be quite a useful addition to my search arsenal, especially because it pulls in data from such a wide variety of sources.

wajam_wikipedia

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4:12 pm


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

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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 SpreadingSantorum.com) 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


Google, Bing and Yahoo Team Up to Improve Search Listings With More Structured Data

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Google, Bing and Yahoo today launched a new initiative that will introduce a common vocabulary for adding additional markup and structured data to websites and – by extension – search engine listings. Schema.org, as this new markup is called, allows website owners to give search engines better ways to understand the content on their sites. With schema.org, you can, for example, ensure that a search engine knows that something on your site is a recipe, a movie review with a rating, a listing for a local business or that a specific page is about a product. In total, the schema.org hierarchy knows of a few hundred different content types that can be described through its vocabulary.

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6:14 pm


Bing Expands Facebook Integration With More “Liked Results”

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All the major search engines are now working on integrating signals from your own personal network on sites like Facebook and Twitter to enhance their search results. Google launched its latest initiative last week and today Bing is launching the next step in its program to bring more “liked results” to its results pages. Whenever one of you friends has liked a page that appears in your search results on Microsoft’s search engine, this fact is now highlighted on Bing and your friends’ profile pictures will appear underneath the link.

Bing already featured some Facebook likes on its pages before, but these results were still limited to a selection of sites that were whitelisted by Bing and results appeared in their own box at the top of the search results. Today’s update brings “liked results” to any page on the Web that one of your friends has liked in the past.

Unlike Google, Bing doesn’t surface any shared links from Twitter. Google, on the other hand, doesn’t show any Facebook ‘likes’ yet.

It doesn’t look as if Bing is using these signals to influence what links you see in its algorithmically determined search results, though. Depending on how much you trust your friends’ recommendations, that is either a good or a bad thing, but chances are that Microsoft is also working on making social recommendations one of the (infamous) 1,000 signals Bing looks at to determine search relevancy.



10:03 am



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

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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.

[/list]



10:20 am