Google Social Search Unveiled Sans Facebook

Google today rolled out Social Search within the Google Labs site. Google announced the new experimental search tool at last week's Web 2.0 Summit.

The Google Labs page explains that with Social Search, you "sign in to Google and do a search. 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'."

Limited by Your Social Circle

Ok. I'm game. I clicked the button on the Google Labs page to ‘Join this experiment'. Now, when I visit the main Google search page I get a special Google Experimental Labs logo to let me know I am using the cutting edge Social Search capabilities. It only took one search for me to figure out that my ‘social circle' needed some work.

As far as Google Social Search is concerned, your ‘social circle' is defined by the contacts you have built up in Gmail and the sites that you have linked to in your Google profile. Social Search can incorporate people you're connected with in Twitter, FriendFeed, or LinkedIn, but only if you have established those connections within your Google profile.

I have a Gmail account and a Google profile, but I don't rely on either regularly so the network of contacts I have established there is scarce at best. My search results demonstrated to me that I will have to invest some time expanding my social circle within Google in order for Social Search to provide any value to me.

Where's Facebook?

Social Search is a sort of hybrid approach to real-time search indexing and social networking which provides posts and content from contacts in your social network within your search results. It isn't hard to see then that the proverbial elephant in the room is the conspicuous absence of content from Facebook, the biggest social networking site there is.

Interestingly, when Microsoft and Facebook announced that Bing would begin providing real-time indexing of Facebook status updates, Facebook's chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg stated that no money changed hands in the arrangement and that Facebook is "not trying to make money on data."

Sandberg's statement begs the question ‘if Facebook isn't trying to make money on data, what is the hold up with coming to a similar deal with Google?'

A follow up question also comes to mind: ‘if Google Social Search doesn't include posts and content from the biggest social networking site, how much value can it really provide?'

Innovative Approach

Google Social Search brings some unique elements to the concept of web search and real-time indexing. Aside from pulling publicly available content from your social circle to include in your search results, Social Search borrows from the six degrees of separation concept leveraged in LinkedIn to provide content from the social circle of your social circle as well.

I spoke with Robert Scoble, technology evangelist and social networking guru. He likes what he sees so far from Google's experimental service. He explained that with Twitter searches you get results from everybody, with FriendFeed you get results only from your friends, but with Social Search you get results from two levels-- your own social circle and the contacts of your friends in your social circle, expanding the sphere and providing greater value.

Scoble pointed out that this approach "could eliminate spam." Restricting your search to only your direct social circle limits the potential results, but the Twitter-style search of indexing every public post provides too much opportunity for spam.

According to Scoble, the Google Social Search approach will weed out spam. He said "If I am following you I know you won't spam me, and you won't have spammers in your network. If I start getting spam from you, I can just drop you from my social circle." Users will be more discriminating about who they connect with, and more diligent about protecting their own reputation.

As with all things social networking, Social Search has to walk the tightrope between sharing information with the social network, and protecting privacy. In a video overview of Google Social Search, Google stresses the ability to customize the social circle and opt out of any service.

Tony Bradley is an information security and unified communications expert with more than a decade of enterprise IT experience. He tweets as @PCSecurityNews and provides tips, advice and reviews on information security and unified communications technologies on his site at tonybradley.com.

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