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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Google Social Search Live

Google now lets you opt in to the Social Search feature they recently announced. Google explains, “If there’s relevant web content written by people in your social circle, it will automatically show up at the bottom of your search results under a section called ’Results from people in your social circle.’” Your social circle is defined as “Gmail chat buddies, your Gmail contacts friends, family and co-worker groups, and people you’re publicly connected to on other social sites (such as Twitter and FriendFeed)”. A connection to a site like Friendfeed can be done via your Google Profile, so as a side-effect, social search might make that profile a more important location to maintain for users.

Trying to produce this special personal onebox, I entered a couple of terms. “Germany” was one of them triggering a result, as shown in the screenshot above. Indeed, Nicole Simon and Marcus “Mediadonis”, the two people whose content was shown for this query, are people I’ve talked to or personally met in the past. Clicking on the onebox main link, “Results from people ...”, led to a further search which saw me connected to the Dalai Lama, which I so far only met in an Amsterdam wax figure cabinet (along with Hu Jintao).

Instead of waiting for the onebox to appear, you can also expand the search options to the left by clicking “Show options” and then “Social” on results. A list of people will appear, too, so you can further refine. I was again “connected via” (which I don’t use in any actual way, and which I didn’t add to my Google profile) to a lot of strangers, which kind of ruined the purpose of this.

I guess it’s an interesting start, with a lot depending on how correctly Google spots your real connections; real, as opposed to forgotten social network pages and such. Another part to the “useful” equation is probably how relevant the social side is to your actual query. I often type queries because I’m solving a specific task – looking for a location, looking for a programming solution, looking up a fact bit etc. – where I have a harder time to imagine social results being useful. I want the “best” result to solve my task, independent of my social circle. Where social search might come in very handy though is when you’re looking for opinions. What do people I know think of new Google product X? How did people like yesterday’s event Z? Often, I head to Friendfeed for this type of stuff. (Though the interesting part about blocked-here-in-China Friendfeed is that it’s not specifically about people you’ve met or who know you but about people whose opinions you might find particularly interesting or challenging... there’s an overlap, but those two aren’t the same.)

On a side-note, it’s worth noting that what Google Social Search does not do, apparently, is include private content on web results – like results from your Gmail inbox. The latter would truly be one search to rule them all, but would probably also add a lot of privacy fear & confusion (“Help, my Gmail turned up on Google!” or “My boss was using my browser for a quick Google search and saw my private Picasa pics!”).

Now, do you gave some example queries for which social search seems useful to you? How well did it do in your tries?

[Thanks Hebbet!]


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