As a Person, Publisher, News Organization and Twitter User, I Think Google’s New Personalized Search Results are AWESOME!

Personalized Google Search Results
Personalized Google Search Results

Unpersonalized Google Search Results
Unpersonalized Google Search Results

The top story on Techmeme right now is Steven Levy’s “Is Too Much Plus a Minus for Google?”. Alot of people are talking about how including personalized Google+ search results is somehow bad or wrong. Earlier this week Twitter put out a statement saying that they thought this new search integration was “bad for people, publishers, news organizations and Twitter users.”

I disagree.

Sure, it may be be bad for *Twitter*, but to say it’s bad for people, publishers, news organizations and Twitter users is wrong. I have been hoping for the integration of social search into image search for years now. Back in 2006 I wrote a blog post when Yahoo first started showcasing Flickr images into their image search results. I was a fan. I’m not sure why everybody didn’t get all wound up when Yahoo started adding Flickr photos to their search but they now seem to be wound up that Google is essentially doing the same thing.

As a person, publisher, personal news organization (aka blogger) and Twitter user I *absolutely* want Google+ integrated into my search results.


Well look at the two images above. Both are searches for New York. The top one represents the results when I’m logged into Google. The bottom one represents when I’m logged out. Why is the top one so much better for me? Well, as a photographer, if I’m going to New York there’s a big chance that I’m going to want to be photographing in New York.

The unpersonalized results are pretty photos of New York but they provide me no additional information about the locations. The first result goes to a wikipedia page, lots go to travel oriented pages — they are nice postcardly type photos of New York but really do me no good.

Now the personalized results are *far* more useful. Google+ knows that I like shooting urban exploration photography. They also know that my friend Amy Heiden has a kick ass photo of urbex photography from New York. Now *that* image jumps to page one. This is great because I *know* Amy. We’re friends. So now I can check in with Amy and say, “wow! love that shot, would you mind telling me more about it and how you got in, etc.). This is far, far, far, more helpful and useful to me than the bland postcardly photos without Google+.

Two of the images on the page are like some of the postcardly overhead New York sky images on the generic unpersonalized page — only there is a huge KEY difference for me. They were taken by my friends Tom Harrison and Ingo Meckmann. There’s also a kick ass shot of the Apple Store taken by my friend Trey Ratcliff. These are not just people that I sort of know. These are people that I know well and have known for years. These are friends that I can check in with and say, “whoa! where did you get that awesome photo from, which skyscraper were you in.”

Personalized results on Google+ are wayyyyyy more helpful to me than unpersonal results. And this is exactly what Google should be doing. Helping me find the information that is most helpful and most useful to me. As a photographer, this means that I *want* them to give preference to photos by people that I know. People who I can talk to. People who will share information about these photos with me. I don’t want to see some bland photo by some Associated Press photographer who I don’t know, can’t talk to, and is too busy to share information with me personally.

It pains me that Twitter and Facebook want to take this away from me. That they want to take this really useful thing and somehow rob me of it. All because they are afraid that Google+ is going to be a bigger, better social network.

So as a user this is super helpful to me. What about as a blogger or publisher? YES! It’s also super helpful to me. Now my photos will be shown to all sorts of people who have chosen to follow me and my work. I get bigger distribution. It’s the dream of long tail content. I suppose if you’re not on Google+ as a blogger/publisher this gives you a pretty powerful incentive to get your ass on there ASAP, but what’s so bad about that? Google+ is a vastly better social network than Twitter (photos look awful as little links of text) or Facebook anyways.

It seems like Twitter and Facebook don’t want Google competing in the social network space. They want to keep it all for themselves. At the same time they seem to want to force Google to pay through the nose even to have access to their realtime data and firehose. If Facebook and Twitter don’t like this integration, let them give away this data for free to Google, or better yet, they can go build their own search engines. But they shouldn’t try to pull this integration away from me. Why should users get caught as casualties in their war against Google? As a person, as a publisher and yes… even as a Twitter user. (BTW Twitter, just because something might be bad for *YOU* doesn’t mean it’s bad for your users, like *ME*).

I for one welcome these new search results and am super excited about personalized search and how it is going to help me find the things I need to find more easily in the future.

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  1. Ryan Lynham says:

    Nice one, TH! Fantastic write-up and well-formed arguments. I’m sold. : )

  2. Paul says:

    Thanks for this dissenting view! (Weirdly, I run a service called Postcardly, which is how I came across your post, via Google Alert.) Very interesting. I had read a similar piece to Steven Levy’s on Gizmodo: (That was shared on Facebook by a friend of mine who works for Bing, ha.)

    But I was left wondering what this meant to the actual *quality* of the results, if people could set aside their seemingly innate desire to beat up on Google. Your search result comparison at the top is a pretty compelling use case for your situation.

  3. Cedric says:

    It would have been a hell of a surprise if you didn’t like this new Google search. I mean you did think Buzz was great when that came out.

    A couple of things though about your arguments. The Yahoo/Flickr argument isn’t the same thing. It was at least showing you results you didn’t know about. It was still allowing you to discover new things all the while driving traffic through Yahoo’s pages. What Google are doing is showing me MY world and guess what, I already know it. I know my friends in it, I know who’s been to New York and since I’m in touch with them I can just pick up the phone and talk to them about it. And if I’m wanting to sell my pictures, well guess what the people who follow me already know about them. So what’s the point? I need Google to bring me the REST of the world NOT my world.

    I’m a big user of Google, search, reader, docs, email, translator, maps, books, calendar, plus, you name it but Google are not doing this for our benefit. We are not Google’s customers, we are merely data collection points which they feed to their real customers, the people who buy advertising space on Google. And I think it is safe to say that advertising will come to G+ which I’d have no problems with but just show me search results I don’t already know about.

    I would expect search engine algorithms to become less and less bias over time. Obviously this won’t be happening as it is now driven too much by hits on pages which translates to dollars. In any case this new Google search isn’t what I would define as “personalised” search results. It’s more redundant or regurgitated search results. Stuff I already found on my G+ stream.

    As for Facebook and Twitter deriding this new search algorithm. Putting aside whether they are right or not, that’s just competitors competing but I have the feeling you’d love to see G+ destroy them all. Don’t forget that Google created Plus NOT for our benefit but rather to stay in the game. And they will only continue to innovate while there is competition.

  4. Thomas Hawk says:

    Cedric. I definitely do NOT want G+ to destroy Facebook and Twitter. I LOVE competition. It’s why I still like to root for Flickr even though Google+ is kicking their ass right now. Look what Google+ competition has done for flickr. For the first time in years their general manager is out with a blog post today talking about them finally innovating.

    I also want Twitter and Facebook to innovate. Facebook already has been innovating in the area of photos I LOVE that. I love seeing big bold photos on Facebook now. I bitched about Facebook’s stingy tiny thumbnails and photos for YEARS. Facebook didn’t care about the photos on the site because they didn’t have to. But now that Google+ comes along and gives us a far superior photo experience, look how big the photos are now on the timeline view. Even *bigger* than Google+.

    I have thousands of “friends” online. I cannot keep track of which ones are in New York and which ones are not. I cannot remember that 2 years ago a friend visited there to shoot Urbex. This is why I want search to be my reminder.

    The nice thing about this new feature is that each user can choose to use it or not. If you dislike it go for it. Turn it off. Or if you just want to do a temporary Google Search without it open up an incognito window and it goes away. But I get the sense that Facebook and Twitter don’t want *ANYBODY* to have it. And that’s what bothers me.

    In the case of Yahoo/Flickr they were in fact showing me my own photos in some cases. I wish they only used the photos by my contacts though.

  5. Stuart Reid says:

    Very interesting. Of course twitter, facebook, etc should be scared. They get a lot of direct traffic of course, but also depend on Google. In return, Google depends on internet users, just eyes-looking-at-screens.

    Everything Google does is to get more people online, view more pages, use more services – from the Search Engine to Android. Even people using browsers other than Chrome and search engines other than Google still benefit them. Their fingers are in so many pies…

    Personalized search will help the tricky business of balancing relevant results to the searcher, while delivering ads for the advertisers. It could mean a shift towards more localized advertising, but those who want privacy had better turn this feature off, use “Incognito” mode, or log-out of Google+ 🙂