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Google Social Search; an early review

Written by David Harry   
Tuesday, 27 October 2009 06:27

Now that Google has launched its Social Search, where do we stand? Is it a brave new world of search? Is the sky falling? Well, that’s what we’re going to find out – SOSG Style…. Of course. For starters, if you haven’t already, you can join at - Next let’s get past the basics with a quick review. Over at the Google blog the most notable statement (for this geek) was;

We've taken steps to improve the relevance of our search results with personalization, but today's launch takes that one step further.Google Blog

Let’s keep that in mind. This as much a personalization than anything, but you knew that from last time right? Of course, you’re so damn clever, that’s what I like about ya!

Essentially the system collects contacts/info from;

  1. Google Profile (and the sites you’ve listed; blogs, social etc..)
  2. Google Contacts/Gtalk (friends/family/etc.. and Gtalk peeps)
  3. Google Reader ( the blogs/sites you follow)

This also can include secondary contacts (friend of a friend) and essentially now becomes a recommendation engine to serve up potentially relevant content from your networks.

Google Social Search - Graph

I thought it interesting that in Matt’s video he refers to it as a ‘Social Graph’ which obviously brings back visions of the Google Social Graph API we’ve been talking about the last while.

Taking Google Social Search for a spin

So what does one search? Well given that I am a search geek and much of my contacts are as well… it seemed the query ‘Google social search’ would be a great start;

Google Social Test 1

Low and behold, it showed my own stuff and my fav fella, Bill Slawski, (connection via FriendFeed). Not bad there Google… although sadly, neither was actually about the story I am after ( a little heavy on the traditional signals methinks?). And seriously, I know what I’ve written… take me out would ya? Undaunted, we click through to see what the rest of my network is thinking…

Google Social Test 2

OK, it’s a nice selection of my friends… or people I trust. That’s good, because with my 3k Twitter followers alone, it could get messy. I seems to be more tied to my Google Contacts than anything… although it picked up on my time with Collective Thoughts. BUT STILL it’s not the story I am after. Can I get a little ‘QDF’ in there puleaaze?

It is interesting that it’s also picking up peeps from my Google Reader subscriptions as well as my time blogging at Collective thoughts;

Google Social Test 3

Not to mention my FriendFeed and Twitter contacts

Google Social Test 4

What isn’t so cool, is that it is ranking my Google related peeps above others. I’d like to see a bit more of a mix really. Anyway, we’re still not getting viable results… so I figure I’ll tighten up the query to see how it performs…

Google Social Test 5

#$%#$&$% Dammit!!! I want friggen news about this very app I am using if you don’t mind. Sigh… there’s might be an issue here. Specifically, the freshness of the results I am seeing and the way Google is deciding to weight the actual results isn’t quite there yet.

One thing is certainly evident; it is pulling blog posts in most cases from the people in my social circle. Not really as much social mentions or articles/pages they’ve shared. I also tried an exact match, with little success (it found a few older posts on it…)

If at first you don’t succeed

Ok, since it likes to look at some longer distance results, I decided to stop busting its Real-Time-Balls and try a query that’s not-so-fresh. But at the same time a space I am familiar with a usable SERP… so we try; Link building services

Let’s say I’m looking to outsource and was curious what my circle had to say…(that’s ‘intent’ peeps…).

Google Social Test 6

Ok, start’s ok with a few peeps I might not think of, but trust immensely. Although it’s odd how it seems to think I have a thing for Ann… wtf? This time around it’s pulling the pages from their site(s) and connected via FriendFeed… (and even nails the query). What else do we have…?

Google Social Test 7

That part was a bit hit and miss really… so we can see that the relevance isn’t exactly where I’d want it. Just for fun I also looked at exact match and a few other approaches, alas, the results were still not effective.

This seemed to be universal in that even a search for such popular topics as ‘H1N1’ or odd ones like, ‘dinner in New York’, seemed to not really bring back much as far as targeting is concerned. Oh there were results, just not real tight on the relevancy so far…

Better friend management puhleeeeeaze

What we can see as it stands, is kinda’ anti-climactic (but I've been playing in implicit feeback, soooo). I do like the idea of it all, but as with many things at Google over the last while, it’s seems unpolished and somewhat architecturally unstable. It is just a babe remember. Google social search, Wave and other improvements, once more teach is that 'this thing of ours' is an ever evolving beast. That's what keeps it fun.

They do need to give us a better way to manage our friends/contacts, that's a given. They tell us to use our Google Profiles as the base, as well as our contacts (Gmail, FriendConnect and Reader) but there is no easy way to add new peeps or effectively manage users in a single interface.

Actually, it seems my contacts in FriendConnect aren’t even part of the mix. Erm.. DUH, that’s YOUR social network Google!! Make it easier dammit! How do I add people???

Google Social Test 8


The early take on things…

What else can we take from some early mucking about? After only a few hours at play, there are a few things I’d certainly think could make things better (beyond a more robust user management system);

  1. Need a way to throttle the effect a given user has on rankings
  2. Need to be able to weight services/sites (or remove without removing from my profile)
  3. A way to remove sites (much like Search Wiki)
  4. Better contacts/friends management (or did I mention that already...hehe)
  5. Stronger weighting for contacts shared items (not just their own sites, shared items too)
  6. Add non-direct contacts (such as peeps I’m following in Reader or those I deem ‘influencers’)

Now, there are certainly some things to like here…such as;

  1. Might also work well in concert with Wave
  2. Adds yet another avenue to this years ‘Search Options
  3. Doesn’t encourage follower whoring (always big lol)
  4. Doesn’t initially draw eyeballs from main SERP
  5. Gives SEOs new targeting options (2010 is the year of ‘Granular’!)
  6. Can benefit outreach programs
  7. The potential… the potential and the potential.

Another problem is; do most end users actually want to participate in crafting their SERPs? Traditionally search engines have had a tough time getting explicit user feedback and thus the ongoing interest in the implicit data (as much of this is based on). That type of data can be somewhat unreliable, as can be seen in this early incarnation.

I'd be ever so interested in knowing some usage numbers (adoption levels) for explicit elements such as SearchWiki and SideWiki...and others. If they can swing it, the elephant in the room just grew some more.

What does it mean?

This is NOT real time search… as such we may have not heard the last from Google and Twitter as new bedfellows. This is more of an added layer to go along with the other new options and verticals that we’ve seen this year. Real time search is still not going to be overly threatened by this release in my opinion.

As for our never ending search for meaning, some thoughts come to mind;

  • It's almost a vertical, won’t easily be confused with reg results – which means don’t take your eyes off the prize that is your standard SERP
  • Relevance or targeting content as important as always – you want Google to KNOW what the page is about. Balance targeted and link bait/hype TITLEs.
  • Google says links and other standard signals still in play - according to Matt, relevancy signals still are in effect. (Although early testing finds efficacy debatable)
  • Get lots of contacts? Eeeeww.. Target influencers – I can’t see grabbing up contacts and spamming them as viable. Begin to incorporate the model into your outreach programs instead.
  • Social Search adds ‘extended social circle’ people – this also means that strong networks become more important. If your contacts are spammers, it may spill over to your contact/followers. New rep management implications
  • Also worth considering is socializing the content – it might be worth while to get your social interactions on the site. Considering that so far it’s largely blog posts/articles, not actual microblog content, bring your goodies on site (Tweets, import FriendFeed). This should add an extra layer.
  • Get the gadget – while FriendConnect might not be influencing things now, it may at some point. Consider adding the gadget to sites as appropriate.

What I'd be looking to do, as with local, as with any vertical, is increase our visibility (when it makes sense). From what we do know now, and what we may see in the future, this is going to ultimately be another avenue for increased content syndication (and links if you’ve done it right). Google’s Social Search certainly gets a passing grade. If not for what it can do now, but for the potential it holds (can you say Google Wave?). For now I shall reserve judgement til it matures, and I have more time to much about.

We're going to have to broaden our contacts and see what power this puppy holds… As such, since the FriendConnect gadget here on my blog doesn’t work with GSS, be sure to get hooked up with me via FriendFeed or Twitter

Next thing I want to do is look at the profiling patents to see how Google might use this data on the monetization side of things..

Until then… here’s some more readin' for the obsessed;

Follow the trail

Google Social search is now live!
Google Social Search; the potential for personalization
Why Google’s behavioural targeting should creep you out
Can Google be a social search engine?
Making sense of real-time social search

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