Google today launched an experimental 'social search' feature, which returns results created or endorsed by a user's online friends.
It's long been said that success in business depends on who you know. Now, success on the search engine results pages will also depend on who you know, now that Google has launched its Social Search product into its experimental Google Labs.
The overall premise, alluded to last week by Google VP Marisa Mayer at the Web 2.0 Summit, highlights content created by friends of the searcher, or content from sites that the user follows via RSS feed, to put more weight on a user's social graph when determining what results are relevant.
"Our objective is to bring content authored or endorsed by your social circle right to your Google search results," Amit Singhal, Google Fellow, told ClickZ.
Initially, social search results will use data from a searcher's Google contacts (from Gmail, Google Talk, etc.), RSS feeds in the user's Google Reader account, and sites linked in a user's Google Profile. Google profile pages could include the user's Twitter and FriendFeed accounts, which both will be used in social search results.
Those results will appear in a separate section at the bottom of the search results page, at least for now, Singhal said. Google will return blog posts, Twitter and FriendFeed entries, or other content created by the searcher's social connections, or from blogs the searcher has subscribed to in Google Reader, under the heading "Results from people in your social circle," as depicted below.
Users can also click through to see only content from their social circle, which can be further filtered by which friend created it.
Brands that reach out on social networks will find their results showing up more often on their connections' search results pages. And as always, those that create content that people find interesting will be rewarded, only now that will be multiplied as more users become interconnected.
Singhal emphasized that all content included in these results is already publicly available to anyone, so nothing the creator hasn't already shared publicly will be revealed. That would rule out including most Facebook content in the results, as that content is restricted to viewing by a user's Facebook friends, he said.
In addition, the results are filtered through Google's relevance algorithms, so it's not showing social search results when they're not going to improve the search experience, Matt Cutts, Google's search evangelist, told ClickZ.
"It uses PageRank, and all the signs that Google uses for determining reputation and relevance," Cutts said. "It only triggers when there's a really useful result."
Singhal, who has been using the product for several months now, said the relevancy ranking algorithms applied to social search have improved the relevance of the search results overall. "Every time I see it come up, there's a 'wow' effect," he said.
This product is not related to last week's announced deal with Twitter, where Google (and Bing) said they'd begin including Twitter entries in search results.
"This is a filter on public Web content, and not related to any Twitter search," Singhal said. "These results are not from any single service, and they will become even richer as more content becomes open, and as more connections are made between people, or between people and content," he said.
For marketers, this is another indication of the direction Google is heading with its relevancy factors for determining what to return in search results. As with the Twitter "firehose" data, it stands to reason that Google will use what it learns from this Social Search experiment to adjust its current algorithms, or create new ones.
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Kevin Newcomb joined ClickZ in August 2004, covering search marketing and other online marketing topics. He has been reporting on web-based businesses since 2000.
Before the bubble burst, Kevin was a marketing manager for an online computer reseller, handling copywriting, e-mail marketing, search marketing and running the affiliate program.
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