Surveying Social Search

by Jon Gjengset

Google recently published a new feature on their Labs Search Experiments page: Google Social Search. By enabling this service, Google attempts to locate your friends and connections through online communities like Twitter, Facebook, GMail and Google Reader, and present you with search results that are not only relevant to your search phrase, but also to your social circle. For instance, searching for a restaurant will provide you not only with the regular search results for that restaurant, it will also give you blog posts, tweets and other publicly available messages from your friends, and their friends about what you search for. This may be a review, a comment, images or anything else that Google finds relevant.

In order for this to work correctly, you must tell Google how to find your friends, and this is usually done through your Google Profile. There, you can add links to pages that represent you online, and Google will then go through these to attempt to find connections to other people. Results from these people will then be integrated into your search results.

It is hard to say what kind of an impact this will have on searching in the future, but I believe it will make search results much more relevant to the individual. We are more likely to listen to someone we know about a product or a service, than believe the words of a total stranger. The real roadblock that needs to be overcome is to properly determine a user’s contacts and friends. Because several systems are closed to the public (Facebook for instance), a lot of connections are invisible to these kinds of crawlers. In my opinion, this is very unfortunate, and I think it is sad that people feel such a need for privacy that they feel the need to hide their friends, pictures and info from the public eye. As Google Social Search is currently dependent solely on publicly available connections and information, it cannot get any better than what is publicized. It is limited by the raw data it can fetch, and at the moment, that is unfortunately too little for the social search results to be relevant enough. That is, at least, my experience so far with trying out Google Social Search. Hopefully, however, this will change in the future, and bring truly individually adapted search results.

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