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Google Grafts Gmail Onto Web Searches

Google Grafts Gmail Onto Web Searches

Google's beta testing a service that will bring up results from users' Gmail accounts alongside normal Web results when the user does a Web search. The service is limited to about 1 million people so far. If users want to hide the personal results that could appear from information within their Gmail accounts, they can opt in and out of the feature on the search results page.

By Rachelle Dragani
08/09/12 7:00 AM PT

Google has announced it's testing a new service that will include relevant information from a user's personal Gmail account when that person types in a query on the company's basic search page.

Google said the service is meant to further integrate the company's Web presence and its many functions, including e-mail, so that users can have faster, more relevant information at their fingertips.

Participants in Google's field trial for the new feature will be able to type a query into the site's main search page and, in addition to the normal results, receive suggestions from their own e-mail accounts, if applicable. For instance, someone might type in "seafood restaurant San Francisco" and see Google's recommendations pop up along with the contents of a previously sent e-mail that included a friend's mention of their favorite seafood spot in the city.

If users want to hide the personal results that could appear from information within their Gmail accounts, they can opt in and out of the feature on the search results page.

Currently, the service is only available for 1 million beta testers, and right now it is only for users with accounts ending in "gmail.com." Gmail users interested in trying out the feature can sign up here. Google will then get back to them with a confirmation e-mail. The company warned it may be unable to activate the service for everyone who wants to try it, or it could take a few days for the trial to begin.

Google did not indicate any further plans for the service. The company did not respond to our request for further details.

Search Evolution

With Google still the dominant player in the U.S. search market, it's only natural that the company would try to integrate its features to expand its Web presence into its adjacent services, said Jeff Kagan, tech analyst and consultant.

"Search is growing, search is evolving, search is changing," he told TechNewsWorld. "It's different today than it was five years ago, and 10 years ago, and it's going to keep being different and we'll have to get used to that."

The instinct to use Google's search engine to look for information they know exists elsewhere is already a part of people's Web habits, said Larry Cornett, founder and CEO of Brilliant Forge. Even if people know they could simply search within their e-mail for information about a recent flight purchase or a friend's restaurant recommendation, the one-stop Google search bar could be welcome.

"Most people use Google Search to navigate the Web and have come to trust it as the launching point to access all of their websites and Web services," he told TechNewsWorld. "For instance, typing in 'ebay' in a Google search just to navigate to ebay.com."

Privacy Invasion?

Though the highly personalized, integrated service might be the way online search is headed, making sure the potentially personal data remains secure is a main concern for Google. The company has already faced the wrath of users as well as federal regulators over how much consumer information the company can collect and how it can use it.

"We love Google and we hate Google," said Kagan. "We love what they do and we hate some of the way they do it. This is allowing us to get more information and probably better get what we want, but it also could invade privacy, and Google is not the only one doing it."

That's not to say Google's idea is bound for failure, said Kagan. Rather, the company needs to roll out its new features slowly to a consumer crowd that might balk at the idea of a coworker catching a glimpse of a personal e-mail in a Google search, or an older policymaker that can't see Google's vision for greater search integration.

"This company has a problem with changing too quickly," said Kagan. "They have to warm people up, make sure they're ready for it, and make it a gradual change. This is probably a good and innovative idea and in about five years we'll see it everywhere, but consumers don't like to be pushed beyond their comfort zone. The word gradual is not in Google's search engine."


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