Google Search Gets Personal; Should Facebook Be Scared?

Google has launched three new features that personalize its search engine in a radical way. It’s the biggest change to Google’s search engine since Google Instant.

Google has fused Google Search with Google+ and Picasa to make results unique to the individualized. Clicking the person icon on the top right of the search page brings up these results.

Say you’re researching for a trip to Thailand. Normally Google will serve you relevant web pages about the area of Thailand you are researching. However, if you click the person icon (Google calls it the “Search plus your world” icon), it will start bringing up Google+ posts about Thailand from your network, related photos from your friends, and pages/profiles related to that query.

The changes also apply to searches for individuals. If I’m in your Circles, and you start typing my name, my profile will pop up. But the updated search engine will also pull up “prominent people on Google+”. This includes anybody who is a member of Google’s authorship program.

Essentially, Google has merged its search engine with Google+ and Picasa search. If you’re prominently using Google+, you’re going to show up more often in search results, and that is a very powerful thing.

Should Facebook Be Scared?

Google has decided that, if it is to beat Facebook, it needed to use its most powerful weapon: its search engine. We knew this was Google’s plan all along, but Google really went all-in on this one.

Will this take users away from Facebook though? I doubt it; there’s very little Google can do to beat Facebook’s entrenched network effect. Facebook is the repository and scrapbook for your entire life; Google+ simply isn’t as ubiquitous or useful. More people will sign up for Google+ and maybe even occasionally use it because they saw their friends appear in search results, but it won’t pry them away from Facebook.

What this does, though, is set up Google+ as the alternative to Facebook, should the social network eventually shoot itself in the foot. If Facebook stumbles badly, Google is in the prime position to seize on the opportunity and siphon away users.

Facebook’s real enemy isn’t Google; it’s Facebook. Google knows this, which is why the search giant is preparing for a massive user raid if and when Facebook slips up.