A recent survey by market research provider Ask Your Target Market reports that many users are ambivalent about Google's new search tool 'Search, plus your world', which personalises search results based on information gleaned from users' previous search behaviour and Google+ connections. 45% of respondents said that they did not like the idea of personalised search, and thought they should see the same results as everyone else. A further 39% said they liked the idea, but had concerns over privacy. Just 15% of respondents said that they liked the idea, with no caveats. Search experts have also expressed strong reservations about the new service, which does not include social content from Facebook and Twitter.
'Search, plus your world' was launched by Google in January and is currently active for users who are logged in on google.com. A button at the top right hand of the screen enables the user to switch to results without personal content. With personalised search turned on, search results will now include web pages that have been prioritised because of your own previous search behaviour, social connections, your own Google+ posts and photos, and those that have been shared specifically with you.
Google says it is transforming itself into "a search engine that understands not only content, but also people and relationships" .
However, information industry commentators who have performed in-depth investigations of the new service have expressed major concerns. Internet consultant Phil Bradley, in a detailed analysis, calls the new service "a disaster for search".
Bradley notes that a test search returned no data pulled from his own Twitter or Facebook accounts. "It's a seriously large issue", he says, "because it immediately limits what I see to a small subsection of my actual world." In addition, the new results downgrade non-Google sites and social networks which, according to Bradley "is a really dangerous approach for Google to take, and one that in the long run is not going to be sustainable, as it breaks search into Google properties and non-Google properties, with the latter being of less value."
Search trainer Karen Blakeman also expresses serious concerns in her blog: "When it comes to serious research Search+ includes far too much irrelevant information".
Marydee Ojala, Chair of the Web Search Academy series of events, added her voice to the debate. "The increasing prevalence of personalisation influencing web search results is worrying to those who search the web for professional reasons" she said. "Serious researchers are looking for unbiased, quality information sources, not what people in their social circles have found. Speakers at WebSearch University in the US and WebSearch Academy in the UK raised concerns about 'filter bubbles' adversely affecting research results. The introduction of Google Plus Your World ups the ante on personalisation." However there are ways to evade personalised results. Ojala suggests using alternative search engines, such as Duck Duck Go, that do not track searchers, and signing out of your Google account prior to searching.
That's not to say, of course, that there isn't benefit to be had from in leveraging social connections to improve search. As Brian Kelly of UKOLN has noted, there is massive value in recommendations which are shared "frictionlessly" by like-minded peers. Will 'Search, plus your world' change how you search in future? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Image courtesy of Carlos Luna via Flickr.