; January 2012 | Google Operating System News

Monday, 30 January 2012

Self-Serving Google+ Fast Results

Google has been often accused of promoting its own services in Google Search. Whether it was Google News, Image Search, Product Search or Video Search, the specialized search engine showed results from all over the web and not just from Google's own services. Image Search wasn't restricted to Picasa Web Albums, Video Search wasn't restricted to YouTube, Blog Search wasn't restricted to Blogger. Even for services like Google Dictionary and Google Finance that have their OneBox at the top of the Google search results, Google shows a list of other relevant services.

Google's special section that shows people and pages from Google+ doesn't look like a regular Google OneBox. It's placed in the right sidebar, where Google used to display ads. It shows up for general queries like [music], [sports], [math], that aren't typically associated with social search results. It only shows results from Google+, not from other social services like Twitter or Facebook. It's there even if you're not logged in using your Google account or you're not using Google+.

If Google+ wasn't a Google product, would it make sense to show a similar OneBox with profiles from social sites? Normally, Google would have created a profile search engine and showed a group of relevant results somewhere in the list of search results. Like this:

Google already indexes profiles from different sites and even shows special snippets with structured data. Why not create a special search engine for profiles like the one that lets you search recipes or the search engine for applications?

When Google released Knol, many people wondered if Google could boost the rankings for Knol articles or create a special OneBox with Knol results. "Google Knol does not receive any sort of boost or advantage in Google's rankings," replied Matt Cutts and he was right. Now what if Google displayed a Knol OneBox at the top of the search results for queries that returned relevant Knol articles? Maybe Knol would've become more popular and it wouldn't have been discontinued.

Is it fair to promote results from a single service, especially when you own that service? Even if those results are comprehensive, relevant and useful, it's always a good idea to also show results from other services.

Some engineers at Facebook, Twitter and MySpace developed a site called Focus on the User that lets you replace the Google+ results with other social profiles from the web. From:

... to:

The results are better simply because you can check the accounts from other social services. Maybe an artist shares more information on Twitter or maybe the Facebook account is more important. "When you search for 'cooking' today, Google decides that renowned chef Jamie Oliver is a relevant social result. That makes sense. But rather than linking to Jamie's Twitter profile, which is updated daily, Google links to his Google+ profile, which was last updated nearly two months ago," noticed the authors of the Focus on the User site. I still don't think that the social search box should be placed next to the results, but at least the tweak made it more useful.

"Focus on the user and all else will follow. Since the beginning, we've focused on providing the best user experience possible. Whether we're designing a new Internet browser or a new tweak to the look of the homepage, we take great care to ensure that they will ultimately serve you, rather than our own internal goal or bottom line." (Google's philosophy)

{ via waxy.org. Thanks, Michel. }

How to Export Your Google Docs

Google Takeout supports a new service: Google Docs. Now you can use the same interface to batch export your documents.

I tried both Google Takeout and the built-in feature from Google Docs that lets you download your documents. Even if they have the same purpose, they're quite different. The Google Docs feature is more flexible: you can choose to download only spreadsheets or presentations and skip all the other documents. You can also skip the files uploaded to Google Docs and not converted to a Google Docs format (for example: PDF files, archives and video files). Google Takeout has a "configure" feature, but you can't skip one or more document types. Another subtle difference is that Google Takeout lets you export only the files that you own, while Google Docs exports all the files from your account.

How to export all your files from Google Docs? Just go to the Google Docs homepage, select one or more documents, click "More" and then "Download", click the "All items" tab, pick your favorite formats and click "Download". The process is not that intuitive and you shouldn't have to select a file to see the download option.

Google+ Now Open for Teens latest

Google+ changed the age requirements so that any Google Account user can join Google+. In most countries you need to be at least 13 years old to create a Google Account and join Google+, but there are 3 exceptions: Spain, South Korea and Netherlands. Until now, Google+ required to be at least 18 years old to "upgrade" your account.

Google's VP Bradley Horowitz mentioned that there are a few tweaks and new default settings for teens. By default, only the people from teens' circles can trigger notifications and comment on their public posts. If someone outside a teen's circles joins a hangout, Google+ temporarily removes the teen from the hangout and gives him a chance to rejoin.

Teens and young adults are the most active Internet users on the planet. And surprise, surprise: they're also human beings who enjoy spending time with friends and family. Put these two things together and it's clear that teens will increasingly connect online. Unfortunately, online sharing is still second-rate for this age group.

In life, for instance, teens can share the right things with just the right people (like classmates, parents or close ties). Over time, the nuance and richness of selective sharing even promotes authenticity and accountability. Sadly, today's most popular online tools are rigid and brittle by comparison, so teens end up over-sharing with all of their so-called "friends."

With Google+, we want to help teens build meaningful connections online. We also want to provide features that foster safety alongside self-expression. Today we're doing both, for everyone who's old enough for a Google Account.

It's interesting that the updated form for creating a Google Account doesn't automatically create a profile and doesn't add the user to Google+ if he's not at least 18 years old.

{ Thanks, Oskar. }

Google+ and the Post-Web Google system

I've noticed an increasing number of ads that no longer send people to the company's sites. Instead, the ads only include a link to the official Facebook page. Sites suddenly look outdated, no longer include the latest information and people stop visiting them.

There are still people that visit those outdated sites and many are coming from search engines like Google. Despite Google's efforts to have a comprehensive index, there's a growing subset of the Web it can't properly index and that's Facebook. Sure, Google indexes a lot of Facebook pages, but that's like trying to find your keys in a dark room. Google needs Facebook's map to index all the pages and find the connections between pages and between users, but Facebook is not willing to license this valuable data to the most important competitor. Google tried to make the web social and failed, so now the only option to stay relevant is to build an alternative to Facebook's walled garden and that's Google+.

+1s are the new links, authors have profiles, companies have social pages and this new universe will try to coexist with the old Web in Google's search results. Google tried to focus on the users and find ways to make the social Web more open, but now it has to focus on itself and do everything it can to stay alive and maybe even save the Web. "Google's mission is to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful," but that's impossible if it can't access, understand and rank that information.

Back in 1996, Larry Page and Sergey Brin used links to determine the importance of a Web page. Now links and pages are no longer that important and the old rule of trying to send people to other sites as quickly as possible is difficult to apply. Showing personalized results requires understanding users better, encouraging them to share more content and create connections. In many ways, Google+ is the anti-Google and that's why it's difficult to understand some of the new features.

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