Google may get a bad rap at building social networks, but they've always been the gold-standard in search. But there's something we've noticed in the "personalized results" that they're using to self-promote Google+: They are not very good.
Besides suggesting Google+ users to follow and adding images shared on the social network to search, if you're a Google+ member, whenever you search for anything on Google you get a link to "personalized results" at the top of the results along with some avatars of people from your circles. This is information Google deems relevant "just for you." We've been ignoring this section for weeks (you may have turned them off entirely), but we clicked on them today and the results were awful. Unlike the Google Search algorithm that we have come to love and trust, Google's Social Search seems to be using simple keyword matching that we haven't seen since the bad-old pre-Google days of Excite, Lycos and HotBot.
Here's an example: We often go to Google to find very specific information, such as what Twitter handle someone uses. We might Google "Mark Zuckerberg Twitter," for example. Below we see Google surfaces just what we want: Zuck's Twitter handle. But, Google also informs us we have 30 personal results, apparently relevant just for us. Exciting!
Clicking over, however, reveals nothing useful at all. There are mentions of Mark Zuckerberg in people's (mostly old) Google+ posts. A few mentions of Twitter. And then some web pages whose links were shared by our contacts that mention one or both. The magic of the Google Search algorithm to just know what we are looking for is nowhere to be found. Granted, my Google+ network is measly compared to the entire Internet, but then what's really the value of giving me "personalized results" in the first place?
To be fair, Google didn't intend for social search to have the same function as regular search. It suggested this type of Googling might provide useful for researching vacation destinations. But, Google doesn't deliver on that front either. Here's what my Google+ network recommends for a trip to Argentina: Two kind-of, sort-of relevant results from Pauline Frommer (that came from my Google Reader subscriptions) below a very irrelevant article about Rupert Murdoch.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.