Google is trawl­ing so­cial net­work, Plus, for more per­sonal user de­tails, writes Michael Liedtke

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - Front Page -

Get­ting to know you.

GOOGLE is sift­ing through the pho­tos and commentary on its blos­som­ing so­cial net­work so its in­ter­net search re­sults can in­clude more per­sonal in­for­ma­tion.

The additional per­sonal touches mark an­other step to­wards one of Google’s most am­bi­tious goals. The in­ter­net search leader even­tu­ally hopes to know enough about each of its users so it can tai­lor its re­sults to fit the unique in­ter­ests of each per­son look­ing for some­thing.

Dif­fer­ent peo­ple should start see­ing dif­fer­ent search re­sults more fre­quently now that Google is im­port­ing con­tent from its six­month- old Plus ser­vice, a prod­uct the com­pany in­tro­duced in a bid to counter the pop­u­lar­ity of Face­book’s online hang­out and Twit­ter’s short- mes­sag­ing hub.

Google’s main search re­sults page also will start high­light­ing more con­tent from an older online photo ser­vice called Pi­casa.

Face­book and Twit­ter pose a threat to Google be­cause they don’t al­low Google’s search en­gine to log the avalanche of pho­tos, links and ob­ser­va­tions tum­bling through those ser­vices.

That’s trou­ble­some to Google be­cause its search en­gine could be­come less use­ful if its sys­tem can’t an­a­lyse what peo­ple are sig­nalling is im­por­tant to them so those pref­er­ences can be fac­tor­ing into the re­sults.

Google is tack­ling that chal­lenge with an ad­di­tion to its re­sults called ‘‘ Search, plus your world’’.

The fea­ture was au­to­mat­i­cally turned on ear­lier this month for all English- lan­guage searches made by users logged into Google.

Turn­ing off the per­sonal re­sults per­ma­nently will re­quire chang­ing a set­ting in Google’s per­sonal pref­er­ences.

If the new for­mula works as Google ex­pects, the search re­sults will in­clude per­ti­nent in­for­ma­tion culled from the re­questor’s Plus ac­count.

For in­stance, a query about the San Fran­cisco 49ers might in­clude links and com­ments made about the foot­ball team by other peo­ple in one of the so­cial cir­cles on the user’s Plus ac­count.

A search re­quest that in­cludes the name of a dog owned by the user or a friend might turn up pho­tos of the pet that have been posted on Plus and Pi­casa.

‘‘ This is go­ing to open up a whole new av­enue in search,’’ said Ben Gomes, a Google fel­low.

Google isn’t the first to do this. Mi­crosoft’s Bing search en­gine has been min­ing pref­er­ences and other in­for­ma­tion shared on Face­book since May.

But Google’s em­pha­sis on more per­sonal re­sults fig­ures to at­tract more at­ten­tion be­cause its search en­gine is so dom­i­nant.

It han­dles about two- thirds of the in­ter­net search re­quests made in the US while Bing pro­cesses less than one- third, in­clud­ing the ac­tiv­ity that it comes through a part­ner­ship with Ya­hoo.

Face­book, though, has greater in­sights into per­sonal tastes. That’s be­cause its nearly eightyear- old so­cial net­work boasts more than 800 mil­lion users who share more than 1.5 bil­lion pho­tos alone each week.

In Oc­to­ber, Google said Plus had more than 40 mil­lion users. Google hasn’t up­dated the in­for­ma­tion since then, although some stud­ies have es­ti­mated Plus be­gan the new year with 60 mil­lion to 70 mil­lion users.

Some of Google’s changes may help prod more peo­ple into join­ing Plus. As part of this month’s ex­pan­sion, the pro­file pic­tures of Plus ac­coun­thold­ers will ap­pear in the drop- down sug­ges­tions on Google’s search box.

In an­other twist, searches on gen­eral top­ics such as ‘‘ mu­sic’’ and ‘‘ sports’’, will gen­er­ate sug­ges­tions on peo­ple, com­pa­nies and places that have Plus ac­counts.

While Google is hop­ing the ad­di­tion of more per­sonal re­sults will make its search en­gine even more use­ful, the changes also could spook some peo­ple as they re­alise just how much in­for­ma­tion is ac­tu­ally be­ing com­piled about them.

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