Google is resurrecting the "+" search feature to make it easier to find new brand pages on Google+, but like many of the other recent changes, repurposing old functionality for Google+ is alienating the search engine's dedicated users. In a Monday afternoon blog post, Google's senior vice president of engineering Vic Gundrota introduced the new Google+ brand pages as a "way to create lasting bonds with the pages (and people) that matter most," and without wading through the specifics, the pages work a lot like Facebook's brand pages. The biggest difference, however, comes in the form of a new feature called Direct Connect (rhymes with Facebook Connect) that allows you to quickly find a Google+ page by typing the brand name into the search bar, preceded with a "+" sign. Typing in "+Google," for example, will take you directly to Google's official brand page. Google also invites you to automatically add brand pages to your circles when you search for them using Direct Connect.
This is nothing like the old "+" search feature, which Google quietly killed a couple of weeks ago. "Well, now we know why Google phased out the + operator," tweeted developer and Wired contributor Andy Baio. "Try searching for +fox news, +pepsi, +toyota or +burberry." Baio covered the death of the + operator for Wired's Epicenter blog and predicted that, like Google Reader's sharing features, the feature was dying in order to make Google+ feel more alive:
Unlike their other recent closures, the removal of + was made without any public announcement. … Google wouldn't disclose exactly why they phased it out, though it seems obvious that they're paving the way for Google+ profile searches. When Google+ launched, instead of adopting Twitter’s @reply syntax, they coined their own format for mentioning people — adding a plus to the beginning of a name — triggering the future conflict with the + operator.
The fate of the "+" symbol was clear: protect a 12-year-old convention loved by power users, or bring Google+ profile searching to the mainstream? It was doomed from the start.
Baio points out that the + search feature had its perks. It would disable the "Did you mean?" function in Google Instant if you wanted to find a specific, though seemingly misspelled keyword. Adding extra terms to a search phrase by using the + operator would narrow down results quickly. Now it helps you quickly connect with a brand like Fox News or Pepsi. Those Google power users who relied on the + operator for efficient searching will now have to figure out something else, just as the Google Reader power users will have to find a new way to share content.