You’d have thought the news about Microsoft teaming up with Facebook to fold friends’ recommendations into Bing search results would have left the folks at Google a tad nervous. It’s one thing to analyze streams of data to figure out which of the many billions of webpages might best serve a searcher’s needs. It’s another if you can just whip out a recommendation made by someone they know and trust.
But if being shut out of Facebook data is causing any concern over at the Googleplex, it was hard to tell on an earnings call last night. Google CEO Eric Schmidt expressed confidence in Google’s own algorithms, while underlining the importance of social search:
We use complex signals to do ranking. Over time we will add additional social, if you will, ranking clues. Fundamentally, we want to make search more personal, and as we get more information about who your friends are, we can make search that much better.
In response to a question from an analyst, Schmidt declined to elaborate, saying only: "There are some ways in which we can do that. We also have in development other ways people can give us that sort of information that can make it even more personal."
But he did add: "There’s always a concern that large private collections of data are not available to search engines…. We’ve take a position, both in a religious and in a business perspective, that the world is better off if you take the information that you’re assembling and make it accessible."
Mostly, the executives were buoyed by other recent company results, including an increase in third-quarter profits of 32%, the wide-spread adoption of the Android operating system by handset makers and app developers ("well past anything I have hoped for it," Schmidt said), and by its display ad sales.
Indeed, the company pulled back the kimono on revenue from display ads for the first time, revealing that it is now $2.5 billion a year—making the company one of the "top three" display ad companies "in the world," according to Nikesh Arora, president of global sales operations and business development. "The digital economy continues to drive growth in both our core business and [in] creating markets and fueling momentum in our newer businesses," said Chief Financial Officer Patrick Pichette. How soon social search will become one of those businesses was left unsaid.