Google has revamped its search functions again, and again it's stirring strong responses. Its latest -- a search personalization feature called Search Plus Your World -- plucks material from Google+ for your search results.
Response ranges from users questioning the propriety of drawing content from circles to some who find it useful and others who just don't like updates. Some privacy advocates recommend a look by the Federal Trade Commission. Some Google competitors are crying foul, and user reviews are mixed.
But short of an antitrust or privacy investigation by federal authorities, chances are SPYW is here to stay -- forever mucking up or improving your search experience, depending on your point of view.
So how can you get the most utility out of Google's new search feature? Here are five tips to help you maximize the usefulness of Search plus Your World even if that means turning the feature off permanently.
Search plus Your World makes it really easy to find people online, as long as they're on Google+. Start typing a person's name into the search box on Google.com and their Google+ profile will show up as an autosuggestion. This is really helpful if you need to find online information about a friend or are looking for an acquaintance to whom you may not be connected through Google+, but who might be accessible via a friend. You can also use SPYW to find the Google+ profiles of notable people such as celebrities and artists.
Once you click on an autosuggested name, their Google+ profile and other information will show up on the search results page. You can also search for content directly in their Google+ profile from the search box at the top of the page. To revert back to regular search, just delete the little contact card in the Google search box.
Surface Great Content
Since Search Plus Your World incorporates recommended and shared sites from people you're connected to on Google+, adding new people can reveal content you may not see otherwise.
Adding this circle can surface recommended content such as interesting blogs, helpful tutorials and so on.
Create Special Circles
As you're going about your day searching on Google, you may come across Google+ profiles of people who interest you. Most often these profiles will appear in the right-hand column next to the main search results.
Let's say you're searching for information about fishing, because you've decided to take it up as a new hobby. If you come across Google+ profiles for fellow fishing fans, create a circle in Google+ called "Fishing" and add the new people you find. Now, whenever those people share something related to fly fishing on Google+, it will surface in your search results.
Edit Your Circles
So you've added a bunch of people to Google+, but now you feel you're getting too many recommendations or photos from a specific person; let's call that person Scott Blend. To dial down Scott Blend's influence on your search results, you need to edit your Circles by going to plus.google.com/u/0/circles and click on "People who've added you." Type "Scott Blend" into the search box at the far right side of the page. Once you've found Scott Blend, click on his card and then click "Ignore" on the far right side of the page.
Turn it Off
Can't stand Google's personalization and you just want to see your plain old search results? You can turn off SPYW for individual searches by clicking on the globe icon on the far right of any search results page.
To turn off personalization permanently, go to your search preferences, scroll down to "Personal results," and select "Do not use personal results." Then click on "Save" at the bottom and watch your friends disappear from your search results.