SiliconFilter

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 Track Me: Google Makes Opting Out of Ad and Data Tracking Easy

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About two years ago, Google launched a browser plugin that allowed users to opt out of the company’s ads tracking mechanism. By tracking your moves around the Internet, Google – and most other advertising companies – can ensure that you see relevant ads (read: ads you are likely to click) on the pages you visit. Today, just a few hours after Mozilla announced its plan to offer a do-not-track tool for Firefox, Google announced its own Chrome plugin that allows users to permanently opt out of personalized ads and data tracking from not just Google but a wide range of other online advertising companies as well.

According to Google, there are currently 50 advertising companies that are part of the Network Advertising Initiative (NAI), including the 15 largest ad networks, that will now let you opt out of data tracking through this plugin. While the add-on is currently only available for Google’s own browser, the company has released the source code on an open-source basis and plans to make it available for other browsers as well.

Keep My Opt-Outs Chrome Web Store

Until now, Google’s opt-out mechanism – and that of its competitors – worked reasonably well, but every time you cleared your browsers’ cookies, you would lose your settings. This new tool makes your choices permanent.

Once you have installed the plugin, you can head over to About Ads, the “Self-Regulatory Program for Online Behavioral Advertising” to check if the plugin works.

So what changes once you install the plugin? According to Google, “you may see the same ads repeatedly on particular websites, or see ads that are less relevant to you.” Not much of a price to pay if you want to keep your browsing habits a bit more private.

Clearly, Google isn’t doing this just out of the goodness of its heart. There has been a lot of pressure on online advertising companies to enhance their users’ privacy. In the U.S., for example, the FTC just issued a major report on Internet privacy in December that endorses the idea of a “do-not-track list.” Instead of dealing with federal regulations, the advertising industry would obviously prefer to self-regulate and plugins like this are a step in this direction.

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10:47 am