The Best Part Of Google’s New “Search Plus” Is That You Can Turn It Off

As many of you are no doubt aware, Google recently rolled out a brand new update to their most important feature, search. Integration with Google+ became standard and “personal results” began to get preference. We’ll set aside arguments about how this fractures the internet, rendering useless the phrase “just Google X, it’s the first result” that we’ve all used to direct someone to a page. Search Plus is awful. Thankfully, you can turn it off.

Of course, you’re internet-savvy, smart, gorgeous readers, aren’t you? You don’t just want to take our word for it. You want proof that Google’s new social search is horrible. Let’s take a look at a couple examples and beat this dead horse.

Here’s an example of search results returned when I search for “noisecast”:

As you can see, the basics are all there. Our site, our Twitter feed, our Google+ feed, and our podcast link. They’re even more or less ranked by importance. However, curiously, halfway down the page, we’re given a link to “Noisecast – Episode 5”. Strange, since we’re up to at least episode 50 by now, and I certainly don’t recognize that particular bit of art. Let’s have a click.

Upon visiting the link, I discover that there is actually another podcast out there named “Noisecast”. After a few minutes into the podcast, I also discover that they’ve taken the name “noisecast” a bit more literally than we do. In any case, this is not what I’m looking for. I can’t fault them for existing, though, right? Virtually any search will return results for something irrelevant to what I’m looking for, but phrased similarly.

The curiosity, however, comes when I disable social search:

It’s a fresh bit of nostalgia, almost, for the bygone days of Google where results were all that mattered. Aesthetics aside, though, you’ll notice the results are actually more relevant. Our Facebook page (like us!) is now on the results. There’s still a link to an internet archive of a different podcast (how many of these are there?) and we also see a link to our iTunes podcast downloads.

Conspicuously absent, however, are the links to previous episodes of a recent podcast that has absolutely nothing to do with our own. Aberrations in the almighty algorithms aside*, one is at a loss to explain why a podcast I’d never heard of, that has absolutely nothing to do with our own, and which, most importantly, seems to be entirely absent from my own Google+ experience.

Let’s try another, more neutral example, though. For science.

Click to enlarge

ASUS announced a quad-core, 7″ tablet at CES for $250. Sweet! What was the name of that thing again, though? Shoot. I forget. To the Googles! As in most situations where I need Google, the big G can help me augment my memory. I type in a couple of words that get me in the ballpark, and Google handles the rest.

Compare the two sets of results, though. One with social search, one without. You’ll notice that the results are virtually identical. The order of two entries is swapped, but outside of this, the results are identical. Nothing in my Google+ activity improved the results, and the minor difference is entirely immaterial.

Two samples are by no means scientific, but the response from the larger internet community is anecdotally similar. Perhaps social search can improve the experience but, suffice to say, I don’t want it. Which leaves us with the one good thing to come from this new feature: the ability to turn it off.

For the last several months, social has been creeping ever so slowly into Google’s search results. Even in the allegedly non-social results pictured above, you can see Brian Barrett’s Google+ profile linked directly below his article. This is a little handy, if nothing else to help give some trustworthiness to results, tying reputation of a person to reputation of a result. I can guess this result is probably not spam. However, the social features can now be disabled, returning the user to a “stock” Google experience.

Frustratingly, however, clicking the “Hide personal results” button only works for the current search. To disable it by default, click on the gear icon and select “Search Settings”. You can then disable personal search results from that page. An unfortunate workaround, which actually only adds to the frustration of the new feature. Still, at least it exists.

For this, and this alone, I’ll welcome the new changes. Maybe some day Google+ will be a haven of great content and data that can improve search results. Until that time, if it ever comes, I’ll simply be content that social search gets its own lane instead of getting in front of me in the fast lane, slamming on the breaks, and shifting lanes whenever I try to pass.

*– This has been your unnecessary alliteration of the day.

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