“Today, we’re bringing Social Search to more users around the globe,” read a blogpost on the Google Social Web Blog. The search engine behemoth had initially started the Social Search service in October 2009 as an experiment. Back then it was announced that Social Search would allow users to get search results based on their social circles. It was not before January 2010 that Social Search was launched for all searches made on Google.com.
Yet, it never saw much use as a user had to have an active Google Profile to see these results, which was a rarity, and the results were dumped to the bottom of the page. It was only earlier this year in February that Google tweaked Social Search to feature better results from other social networks like Twitter, Quora and Flickr, along with integrating the results better with the general search results. Recently Google also started featuring publicly available data found on Facebook, in its search results, without having to take the social giant’s permission.
This has naturally angered Facebook, which had ultimately led it to indulge in a smear campaign that would malign Google’s image. Facebook had hired a PR agency to spread the news about the shady side of Google’s Social Circle, which tracks users’ data across various social networks without their permission to collect data for its search results. Although Google had declined to comment when the fiasco got uncovered, their displeasure is evident as Facebook has not been mentioned once in its blogpost announcing today’s development.
Coming back to Social Search, although Google Profiles are still not used in wide scale, Google does point out how they decide upon the results that are shown. The blogpost reads, “Google makes a best guess about whose public content you may want to see in your results, including people from your Google chat buddy list, your Google Contacts, the people you’re following in Google Reader and Buzz, and the networks you’ve linked from your Google profile or Google Account. For public networks like Twitter, Google finds your friends and sees who they’re publicly connected to as well.”
We don’t want to be spoil sport but, doesn’t this cause some privacy issues? This in turn shows that Facebook was right. Google is not just tracking a user’s data but also the data of his friends and those of their friends just to provide search results. Moreover, a user’s Google chat buddy list and Google contacts would even contain people whom they are involved professionally or temporarily. I, personally, wouldn’t like their recommendations showing up form my Google search.
On the brighter side, the blogpost did end with, “we plan to introduce the +1 feature as soon as we can.” This is welcome news as Social Search from Google would make more sense with the integration of +1, which would allow users to share their recommendations with friends without having to fear privacy invasion. This is because +1 would be integrated with Google Profiles, which would act as the central pivot around which users would build their social circles or “Loops” in Google. There have also been recent indications that the +1 button that is still an opt-in for the search engine, would be made available for publishers to integrate it in their websites.
Nevertheless, the steps taken by Google does confirm that they are betting heavily on social and even trying to integrate it in their flagship product – search. Will the two be able to co-exist under the same stable? Only time would tell. It is not just Google who is trying to mix social and search; Microsoft and Facebook have indulged in it as well. Today’s news has come just days after Microsoft announced a deeper integration of Facebook in its search results.
(Cross-posted from WAT Blog)