Two Weeks In, Google Says “Search Plus Your World” Going Well, Critics Should Give It Time

Two weeks ago, Google launched Search Plus Your World. Since then, Google has faced strong criticisms that SPYW is making its search relevancy worse and favoring its Google+ social network too much. Not so, says Google search chief Amit Singhal.

Most Google users are happy, Singhal said. Of course, Search Plus Your World isn’t perfect, he admits, but it’ll improve. As for including content from social networks like Twitter and Facebook, Google’s open to that, as long as long-term deals can be reached that give Google faith it can build new features that will last.

I talked today with Singhal — the “Google Fellow” who oversees all of Google’s search algorithms — about the reaction to Search Plus Your World. Here’s the Q&A, questions in bold, answers from Singhal indented below them.

What’s been your overall reaction or thoughts as you’ve seen all the debate about Search Plus Your World?

The overall takeaway that I have in my mind is that people are judging a product and an overall direction that we have in the first two weeks of a launch, where we are producing a product for the long term.

We’re clearly not done. The product is not complete. It will improve, and we are going to add more things to it. We — Google — always launch products and learn from our launches.

Let me also add one thing. Here is something that I’ve been noticing. The user feedback we have been getting has been almost the other side of the reaction we’ve seen in the blogosphere. The users who have seen this in the wild are liking it, and our initial data analysis is showing the same.

With Universal Search or Google Instant, there were more initial complaints, then even later, people were delighted with it.

NOTE: Earlier this week, I was reviewing Google’s web search support forums myself. There really isn’t any massive outcry as we’ve seen with other launches, such as when Google Reader integrated Google+ sharing last year.

There are two main changes that Search Plus Your World introduced. One was the ability to search through privately-shared content along with public content. Some have written they dislike this. Your reaction?

Every time a real user is getting those results, they really are delighted. Given how personal this product is, you can only judge it based on personal experiences or by aggregate numbers you can observe through click-through.

Like everything else, we will improve the rankings and so on. But out of the gate, whereas we had limited users to train this system with, I’m actually very happy with the outcome of the personal results.

How about the concerns that Google+ is being favored too much?

Once again, the blogosphere, they’re just judging the book by the cover.

NOTE: I then mentioned there have been some examples of these blogged, such as by John BattelleMat Honan and just today, Tom Blue wrote about how personalized results made searches for things like “television” or “knives” seem to have irrelevant listings. Singhal then said….

I wouldn’t disagree that there may be a few examples out there where our system could be better, but there are millions of queries where our system could be better.

But specifically, there are concerns Google+ is being favored too much not in the privately-shared results but rather as suggestions in the search box or in the new People & Pages results.

This goes back to the point we have been making, that we only have access to personal content and personally shared content from Google Plus. We don’t have that access from other companies.

But what about the Don’t Be Evil tool launched this week, showing that you can create People & Pages results that do go beyond Google+ content.

This is where I’m saying most people are jumping to a conclusion based on the first two weeks of the product. We’re designing a product which it will work for all individuals. It will have identities as a fundamental ingredient of search and relationships as another fundamental ingredient of search.

All this debate is centered around these very popular people out there, and what you could have done for them, and what makes the most sense. But when you’re developing a product, you don’t want to develop it for one segment of the population.

I’ve not seen the debate that I have a [personal] friend named Ben Smith, and when I try to search for him, I get bad results. If you actually build a product only for popular people, then it undermines what we are trying to do. You can’t build a product that behaves differently for one class of people then differently for the real relationships that matter for you.

I feel like this point has not been emphasized enough. People have gotten stuck on these very popular names, and no one has been focused on the cool part of the product where you can find people you care about.

But the People & Pages section does seem focused on famous people or big companies right now.

This is the first two weeks of the product. We have designed for the future of the product. We have designed a product not just for how it works for today, and what we really want is for it to work for tomorrow. Going forward, we’d be interested in doing things like if you’re looking for a destination, we’d like to present to you people that you know who may have something to say about that destination.

People are coming to a conclusion about the product today, within the first two weeks, and they’re not fully seeing the potential where we can build this product around real identities and real relationships.

Is what we have now in People & Pages a promotion for Google+ or search results meant to be more than pushing Google+?

What we are thinking about that product is that if you’re interested in something, who are the people you are potentially related to that you should know about? If they have shared things with you, that’s the obvious thing. It’s easier to build the early system with popular people, but that’s just the beginning of the product.

But how about now? Is this more a Google+ promotional unit?

We don’t think of this as a promotional unit now. This is a place that you would find people with real identities who would be interesting for your queries.

Currently, that place I would admit is occupied by really popular people. So what we are trying to do with this product is indeed bring that aspect that there’s this real society out there that you should know about.

Why not show the additional social links there? For example, you show Britney Spears with her Google+ page in a search for “music.” She links to her Twitter and Facebook accounts from her Google+ page. Couldn’t those be listed as alternative links within People & Pages?

If people click on her Google+ page, those links are available on her About page. Once again, this is possible for us [to maybe show alternative links] because we know much more about the real identities on Google Plus. We can’t provide that for other [lesser known] people.

But what if the people I really want to know about are on those other social networks?

Now I go back to watching how people are acting [with Search Plus Your World]. For example, if someone is not active on Google+, indeed, we shouldn’t be showing their very old posts. That’s one big lesson I’ve learned from watching this in the wild. We’re learning how we can improve the product. We’re already starting to launch some of these improvements as we speak.

What do you need from companies like Twitter and Facebook to integrate them into Search Plus Your World?

Fundamentally, what we learned with our great Realtime Search product is that once you build a great product that users love, then someone else can decide the fate of that product [because when the Twitter deal wasn't renewed, the Google's Realtime Search service depended so much on Twitter that it had to be closed].

That was a very bad experience for Google’s users, and it was a bad experience for our teams. They put their heart and souls into building a great product, just to see that go to waste.

We’re very open to incorporating information from other services, but that needs to be done on terms that wouldn’t change in a short period of time and make our products vanish.

What if you got the Twitter firehose of data without needing a deal. Would that work?

The question that comes down to is under what terms all that’s under. I’m just very wary of building a product where the terms can be changed.

But what if you were given all the posts that people make, no deal needed, just full access to the firehose. Would that be enough?

There’s more to it. A good product can only be built where we understand who’s who and who is related to whom. Relationships are also important alongside content. To build a good product, we have to do all types of processing. But fundamentally, it’s not just about content. It’s about identity, relationships and content. Anything else trivializes a very hard product.

What about if you were also given a feed about identities and relationships. Who someone is, all their social connections that are made public?

We’re very open to talking to all the parties on what does it take to build a proper identity product for users, with proper relationships managed.

Wasn’t something like the Open Social Graph API supposed to provide this? Or aren’t there these type of standards already?

I wish there were such standards that were widely adopted out there. One problem we already have observed is there are all types of link spam connections on Google Plus. We have to develop sophisticated analysis, say if someone posts with a particular pattern, we can tell they aren’t a real person.

There’s a lot more. It’s not just about content. It’s about identity, and when you start talking about these things and what it takes to build this, the data needed is much more than we can publicly crawl.

Moving Forward

That’s the interview. On a personal note, I’ve viewed the debate around Search Plus Your World as perhaps an opportunity to break the stalemate that’s existed between Facebook and Google for years over sharing data, as well as resolve the loss of Twitter data that happened last year.

Both Facebook and Twitter have real reasons to fear that Google — with its own Google+ social network — might use their data in a way that would threaten their own businesses.

However, both Facebook and Twitter also have good reasons for wanting to be better included in Google’s search engine. Similarly, Google’s search engine would benefit by having more social content within it, as well as a better understanding of social relationships.

That also means I think Google’s search engine would benefit if it could socially connect with any social network, not just Google Plus. I especially want to see the Google search engine continuing to do what I’ve depended on it to do, list the best content from across the entire web, regardless of where it is located.

I covered the strange balancing act Google has to walk between its social network and its search engine at the end of my article about the Don’t Be Evil tool from Facebook and Twitter that launched this week.

As for the balancing act Facebook and Twitter face with Google, I covered more about that — and some potential solutions — in my other post from earlier this this week: A Proposal For Social Network Détente.

Please consider reading both of those articles to understand more about these issues. There’s also related background reading below.

Related: Twitter-Google Deal

Related: Facebook-Google Data Dispute

Related: Google’s Search Plus Your World

Related Topics: Channel: Industry | Features: Analysis | Google: Critics | Google: Search Plus Your World | Google: Web Search | Top News

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About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn



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  • http://www.audettemedia.com Adam Audette

    This is a fascinating interview. Thank you Danny for pressing hard, and thank you Amit for being candid. Opens up many more questions, but also paints a clearer picture about Google’s vision with Search Plus. It really is all out war between Google and Facebook, and to a lesser extent Twitter (and yes, Bing. I almost forgot you). Let the games begin. (And please would someone start a meaningful, fresh search engine?)

  • http://www.kayakcreative.ca/blog K.C.

    Google+ Your World limits real results. Danny, I’m so glad you posed these questions. I feel Amit did some side-stepping and answered some of your questions in a less than open way. Having personally been misled by Google’s results (it was great to see one of our website pages on the first page of results, only to realize it was there due to me being signed in – it was a few pages deeper in non-influenced organic results – working to raise it), I now log out of Google prior to conducting searches. From my perspective, that of a principle in an Internet marketing firm, I feel Google’s transparency if definitely in question…

  • http://fjpoblam fjpoblam

    For me, I think the point he’s (G’s) missing is that now,

    (1) G assumes that G products are one of the “people I care about”
    (2) the search results are becoming tilted toward what “the people I care about” think should be the answer.

    I want search results addressing the topic of the search, in descending order by relevance, whether the answers are provided by “people I care about” or not (and in my case, I’d just as soon not have machine-generated assumptions based upon who *I* may seem to be or deductions about commercial products *I* may like.)

  • http://www.gamerstube.com Joe Youngblood

    Really Amit?
    “once you build a great product that users love, then someone else can decide the fate of that product. That was a very bad experience for Google’s users” do you think third party groups that use your API’s and other services like “Site Search” are providing the best user experience because they rely on you and you make changes all the time? NO.

    Site search was always a joke because of it’s lack of abilities to sort through content, and it’s based on Google’s ability to index a page. Now after Panda that is much worse.

    How is this not a promotional unit for G+ the title of the feature box is “People and Pages on Google+” That sort of makes it abundantly clear what your goal is.

    Google is pushing down paid ads in order to promote one single service that happens to be owned by Google. If Google + was the bees knees then why does Google’s other destination property, YouTube, integrate facebook’s open graph far more than it does anything with Google+ ?

  • http://thenoisychannel.com/ Daniel Tunkelang

    Danny, I’ve had the privilege to work with Amit and Matt, and I respect them both deeply. But I feel here like Google made a high-profile mistake and they are in the unhappy position of having to defend it. The “Don’t Be Evil” tool is just a proof-of-concept, but it makes its point effectively: Google can do better by users than Search Plus Your World (SPYW). Perhaps my peers and I are not representative users, but we’ve found that SPYW degrades the user experience, and that the “Don’t Be Evil” tool produces consistently better results. I hope that Google can get past its initial defensive reaction and stay true to its founding value of putting users first. Even if that means forgoing opportunities to promote Google+.

  • http://www.AccessFirefox.org Ken Saunders

    “This is the first two weeks of the product”
    That was mentioned a few times and as a primary defense (it’s also an admission that there are problems), so (going on that defense), it seems as if Google shut down Labs too soon. Although, and of course, you get greater use and feedback when you release an alpha product as a release one.

    Perhaps they don’t care about all of the negative press and potential litigation, but they could have run SPYW through some testing with people who aren’t actually employed by Google. Like people in your industry, people with and without Google+ or Google accounts.
    If they had done that, then it may have at least appeared as if they weren’t simply trying promote Google+.

    In any event, SPYW destroys the increasingly degrading Google search I once loved and trusted for the best, relevant results and I will switch to Bing before being forced to work with it. When I, a non-popular person was searching for a well known and positioned organization (Mozilla) while logged into Google and saw 5 of my own Google+ posts listed as search results (numbers 2-7), I knew that is what time to reconsider my default search engine.

    Just gives us the search that you promised us. The one that made you.

  • http://www.AccessFirefox.org Ken Saunders

    *I knew that it was time to reconsider my default search engine.

    And to find a comment proofreader :|

  • http://mostlycloudycode.net Rich Miles

    I find it easy to believe that Google is, in fact, seeing positive feedback from the user base. Unfortunately, that is not necessarily something that should be celebrated. It’s pretty well established that Google has well over 1 billion unique visitors every month. Of those only ~90 million have tried Google+. That is less than 10%. We know that a much smaller percent actually uses Google+ on a regular basis. Of those how many are Google fanatics? I would wager it’s a lot. Of course they like the service.

    Put another way, more than 90% of Google’s users don’t know about or don’t see value in Google+. Even worse, they have created a situation where many in the blogosphere (right or not) are writing about switching to Bing or documenting how Bing’s results are actually decent.

    Google should have built up the Google+ engagement before releasing SPYW. As it stands now, Google is saying that social is important but it doesn’t have a good signal. If social integration really delivers better results, I *should* be using Bing. They play nice with Facebook and Twitter.

  • mesel

    Hard to believe Amit feeding such BS. I truly hope he does not believe it, not the guy I once knew.

    But for what it’s worth:
    “once you build a great product that users love, then someone else can decide the fate of that product. That was a very bad experience for Google’s users”

    Rumor has it that Amit and search team were in support of renewing the twitter-google deal. However Vic vetoed it, because for obvious reason twitter did not want Google to build it’s own social network by leveraging twitter’s data, and that did not align with G+.

    It’s clearly not about what standards or APIs need to be invented but rather how any web company, except poor wikipedia I suppose, can trust Google with it’s data and not get commoditized the very next day. Google is no longer in the business of sending traffic, they want to be the destination for answering any question. ITA and travel integration is the most recent example, no wonder all travel sites panicked.

    A very senior Google VP recently said: “currently google is kind of stealing knowledge from other websites, we’d like to get to a point where we can augment or even infer knowledge.” I wish Google would rather focus on that instead of copying the every single hot company in the valley.

  • http://gpysports.org/webmaster.html Jim Mooney

    Google fought SOPA. Facebook and Twitter begged off. Maybe we should patronize the guys who fight for us, instead of the guys who sit on the sidelines.

  • http://www.nathanielbailey.co.uk Nathaniel Bailey

    I dont get this bit that Singhal said “But when you’re developing a product, you don’t want to develop it for one segment of the population.” How can he say that when thats just what google has done by only giving social listings from G+ and not FB and Twitter etc?

    Also, if this is a “new product” why didn’t google add it as a new search feature rather then replacing what already works? Brings an old saying to mind “dont fix something that dont need fixing!”

    Google Search Your World should have been added as a secondary social search feature, not the default search feature which not everyone would want to use as its not going to help when doing general searches for products etc, or at least not in my opinion it doesn’t.

    For example: If I was searching for shoes, jeans, or even wall paper, why would I want people I know on G+ to come up on the top of the results page? I don’t know anyone that would have anything relevant to general shopping terms I would look for so why would I want to see a link to their G+ account rather then sites which can help me to find what I want?

    I think google have made a big mistake by making the new “Social Search Feature” (and thats all it is tbh, so thats what I will be calling it) its default search listings, it should have been made as a secondary search feature and the standard search we all know works should have stayed as the default because at least with that google had relevant listings in the majority!

  • Chas

    Amit Singhal should run for President; he already knows how to double-speak, side-step the issues and pick the polls that best support his organization’s actions. Is Rome starting to burn?

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