Google customizes search results with a smattering of your own content

January 10, 2012

Google rolled out a big change to its search engine on Tuesday that will allow people to find private items, such as online family photos, in their search results.

The new search feature, dubbed “Google Search, plus Your World,” essentially creates customized search results for different users, displaying publicly available Web content alongside any relevant personal online content.

Right now that means search results can feature private photos stored within Google’s Picasa service, as well as photos and posts from Google+, the company’s social network.

If you’re logged in to Google, and you search for Hawaii, you might see photos that your friends or family have shared with you about Hawaii, or musings related to Hawaii from friends on Google+, alongside the standard Web fare about the Pacific islands.

The new search feature also means that a search on an individuals’ name will suggest the one that’s most relevant to you, such as a Ben Smith that you’re personally connected with on Google+ instead of a generic list of results for all Ben Smiths.

“We want one window to answer each and every question that you have” said Google Fellow Amit Singhal in an interview.

Of course, this kind of customized search has the potential to create some sticky situations – imagine searching for “Las Vegas” as part of a presentation at work and discovering unseemly, and long-forgotten, photos from a raucous night out on the town.

To avoid such potentially career-limiting events, Google said it will place a prominent button on the search page that allows users to quickly switch the special search feature on and off.

Singhal said that Google expects to gradually incorporate private content from other Google services (perhaps Google Docs or gmail) into its search results.

As for private content from non-Google services (read Facebook), Singhal said the information was not currently available to Google’s search engine.

Is Google interested in partnering with other companies so that private content on their services could be accessible within Google’s search engine?

“We are very open to incorporating information from others services as long as we can guarantee some level of quality to our users,” Singhal said.

Given the competition between Google and Facebook, it seems a safe bet that private Facebook content won’t be coming to Google search results any time soon.

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