Cast your mind back to November 2011, only a few months after the launch of Google+. That’s when Google made one of its biggest Google+ification moves. It demoted a long-standing search feature involving the plus symbol so that searchers could instead more easily reach new “Google+ Pages” that had been launched. Today, this “Direct Connect” feature is forgotten and broken.
How Direct Connect Worked
When Direct Connect launched, Google promised that people could go directly to popular pages on Google+ by beginning their searches with a + sign followed by a few characters of the page’s name. For example, here’s how it worked for YouTube:
See how typing “+youtube” made a link to the YouTube page on Google+ appear at the top of the search selections? Selecting that would then take you to YouTube on Google+.
Today, if you try the same thing, you no longer get a suggestion. In fact, if you type in the entire string to reach a known page — such as +youtube – that won’t even take you to the page.
The Death Of Direct Connect
When did it die? That’s unclear. Search Engine Land contributor Sean Carlos of Antezeta asked us about it earlier this week — if we’d heard about support being dropped. We hadn’t, but it sure looked dead.
Checking with Google, a spokesperson told us, “That particular feature is not a focus for us moving forward.”
Collateral Damage: The + Operator
To enable Direct Connect, Google had to disable how the + symbol used to work in search. It was part of a set of commands that I used to describe as “search engine math,” where:
- + in front of a word required a search engine to only find pages that actually contained that word
- - in front of a word meant to find pages without a particular word
- ” “ around two or more words meant to find pages with only those exact phrases
The + symbol was a command used by search engines even before Google existed. But Google wanted that + symbol so bad for its Google+ Direct Connect service that it dropped support just before Direct Connect went live. As an alternative, it told searchers who previously used the + symbol to put quotes around single words as a workaround.
Will the + symbol be allowed to return, now that Direct Connect is dead? Google had no comment on that.
Using the + symbol today on Google certainly causes weird things to happen. For example, a search for the word mars generates about 207 million matches. That would find pages that have the exact word plus pages that might not have the word but are deemed related to it.
Searching for mars surrounded by quotes — “mars” — generates exactly the same number, even though that number should drop. That’s because using the quotes means that Google should find pages only containing the exact word.
Searching the old way with the plus symbol — +mars — generates only about 20,000 results. There are almost certainly many more pages than that which contain the exact word mars on them. Nor is this finding pages that somehow have +mars on them. It’s unclear what it does.
Google does have a Google Verbatim search that was added soon after it dropped support for the + operator, in reaction to complaints from those who didn’t like the change. It searches for only the exact words you provide, without trying to do spelling corrections or synonym matches. But since it doesn’t provide counts, it’s hard to use to measure how well search commands in regular Google search perform.
Chances are, the + operator won’t make a comeback. It’s even more a pity that it had to die in the first place for a Google promotion that didn’t stand the test of time.