Google's just added some personalization polish to its Social Search powers--the segment of its search responses that comes from people you're digitally connected to. It's increasing their prominence, adding context, and giving you control over whose links you see.
Google notes its enhancements are all about bringing you "all the goodness of Google" as well as the "opinions of people you care about." Relevance is still important, Google notes, but relevance "isn't just about pages--it's also about relationships." This was the primary thinking in the 2009 introduction of Social Search, which until now was a little segment skulking at the bottom of your list of results containing links from your friends or colleagues.
Now Google's realized the digital world is all about social networking, and it's turbo-powering the Social Search system so it's not just an addendum anymore. Instead of being confined to one easily overlooked block of results, Social Search matches will be sprinkled throughout your search query responses (which definitely increases their importance, although it may make them harder to identify). Google's example is pretty straightforward: The new Social Search matches will appear "with annotations below the results they’ve shared or created. So if you’re thinking about climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro and your colleague Matt has written a blog post about his own experience, then we’ll bump up that post with a note and a picture."
The other enhancement is to reveal where this result was shared online--via Twitter, Flickr or some other publicly viewable means that Google can scan to detect that the sharing's occurred...don't worry if you share a link in a private direct message in Facebook, for example. This is a step up from the previous system, which could only reference a sharing via Google's properties like public profiles.
This is a clever, if subtle, way to inject a little extra social relevance into Google's core business of search, and it will make Googling something seem a little more personalized than simply interacting with a blind, international giant digital tool. It also differentiates it from competitors, like the fast-growing Bing, which recently spoke to Fast Company about how it is reimagining search.
Worry not that Google's getting the information on who you're friends with from some sort of digital data mining trick. Google's had its fingers burned with its previous efforts at automatically deciding who your friends are, and Social Search is a more hands-on system, requiring you to "connect accounts" between your Google profile and someone else's manually, either via the public Google Profile route or privately in your Google account settings ("After all, you may not want everyone to know you're @spongebobsuperfan on Twitter"). Google does offer a degree of automation--noting its algorithms may "find a public account that might be yours (for example, because the usernames are the same)" but it will first invite you "to connect your accounts right on the search results page." It also emphasizes that you only see Social Search matches if you're signed in to your Google profile.
Will this trick work to convince us Google's good at social media? Is this the very first layer of social network technology that may become the rumored Google Me social network? We can't tell. Maybe we'll Google it up and see what our friends, co-workers and that girl from the coffee shop we once Twittered think.
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