Google Experimenting with Social Search

October 26, 2009
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Google may be an also-ran in the social networking market with its Brazil-centric Orkut service, but that hasn’t stopped the search giant from adding social features to its products. A post at the (unofficial) Google Operating System blog recounts the history of Google Reader’s social evolution, up to but not including its latest update last week. SearchWiki, though not a social search feature per se, allows users to share personal annotations of their search results, as does the more recently introduced Sidewiki. And, like Bing, Google has established a partnership with Twitter in order to surface “social” results.

But the feature announced today, which Google is actually calling “Social Search“, is a much bigger step, even if it is tucked away as an experiment on Google Labs. From the official blog post:

With Social Search, Google finds relevant public content from your friends and contacts and highlights it for you at the bottom of your search results. When I do a simple query for [new york], Google Social Search includes my friend’s blog on the results page under the heading “Results from people in your social circle for New York.” I can also filter my results to see only



Google may be an also-ran in the social networking market with its Brazil-centric Orkut service, but that hasn’t stopped the search giant from adding social features to its products. A post at the (unofficial) Google Operating System blog recounts the history of Google Reader’s social evolution, up to but not including its latest update last week. SearchWiki, though not a social search feature per se, allows users to share personal annotations of their search results, as does the more recently introduced Sidewiki. And, like Bing, Google has established a partnership with Twitter in order to surface “social” results.

But the feature announced today, which Google is actually calling “Social Search“, is a much bigger step, even if it is tucked away as an experiment on Google Labs. From the official blog post:

With Social Search, Google finds relevant public content from your friends and contacts and highlights it for you at the bottom of your search results. When I do a simple query for [new york], Google Social Search includes my friend’s blog on the results page under the heading “Results from people in your social circle for New York.” I can also filter my results to see only content from my social circle by clicking “Show options” on the results page and clicking “Social.”

I gave it a whirl, search for “noisy channel” and then restricting the search to content from what Google considers my social circle. The results are as promised, and could further refine to results by author name, selecting from a familiar list of Neal Richter, Jason Adams, Daniel Lemire. Ken Ellis, and Joshua Young (though for some reason Josh’s link didn’t work). Cool! Except that there are a lot of names missing (check out the bloggers in The Noisy Community) and, more importantly, I can’t further refine or even sort the search results. Indeed, the ordering of search results seems quite arbitrary – a phenomenon I’ve noticed more generally for search engine ranking of social media content.

In short, Google Social Search is a welcome initiative, but there’s a lot more work to do before I would find a productive use for it. Given the mismatch between social search and black-box relevance ranking, a little bit of HCIR would go a long way towards making this feature practically useful.

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