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Google Social Search; the potential for personalization

Written by David Harry   
Monday, 26 October 2009 13:34

aka - Now Caffeine Makes Sense...

Google ProfilesWhat’s the future of search (and by extension SEO)? Well, some 40% of the people we asked in our recent poll said personalization would have the greatest effect. But how? One such avenue would be taking it a step further than its current state… to add more layers to the search onion. In short, by getting more social; the rise of the social search engine.

Here on the Trail we’d recently we looked at some ways that Google could get social (which wasn’t far off, I’d wager). And then we took it a step farther by looking at their social network behavioural targeting (and potential issues therein). Will this be what the future holds? Or are they taking a completely different direction? It seemed we’d be waiting for the next big move and twiddle our didgits… not so.

Because last week we were (officially?) introduced to the world of Social Search at Google. It has been one of the buzz terms over the last few years and might finally see some adoption from one of the majors. Marissa Mayer was speaking last week of a new addition coming to Google Labs that contains;

“(..) a new feature that allows you to see results for queries from people in your social network. This works by using your Google Profile. If you fill it out with the other social networks you’re a member of, such as FriendFeed, Google will scan who you are connected to and give your results from those people.

It’s hard to say at this point, but I have to believe the path we’ve followed isn’t far flung from the ultimate implementation. Here's a screen shot;

Google social search coming


Social Search is People not Twitter

This is certainly an interesting development, but will it stop there? This is more important than recent developments with Twitter and Google, this might have far greater implications, (although overshadowed by the Twitter news). Social search has been an persistent topic, from our ongoing fascination with real time social search to last year’s patents on social profiling from Google, which certainly seemed targeted for use with the OpenSocial and Social Graph applications.

What is the Google Social Graph API?

When considering what Google might be up to with Social Search, we must look at the SocialGraph API. We've looked at it a few times and so for reference, we have;

The Social Graph API makes information about the public connections between people on the Web easily available and useful for developers. Developers can query this public information to offer their users dramatically streamlined "add friends" functionality and other useful features.” - Google Social Graph

To understand more of what it can do, have a look at a few of the demo programs.

  • Site Connections - entering URLs to your (or competitors/targets) blogs and profile pages let U see social connections
  • My Connections - enter URLs, and it looks for social connections; who you link to and who links to you.

Or watch this video;


Do you get the idea? Essentially they look at your social connections in an effort to create a profile of your potential interests in contacts and content. This ultimately could be used in creating more granular levels of personalization where not only your own actions, but the actions of ‘approved contacts’ will affect the SERPs that you see. Is that part of the future for Google Social? I’d have to believe it is close with their interest in not only social, but personalization as well.

What we do know is that our contacts and relations across various social profiles will most certainly be playing a part as this endeavour moves forward. How they’ll use it is uncertain… time will tell.


Imagine if you will...

It is interesting that we’ve been talking here about how some of the problems with deeper personalization were processing power. To utilize implicit/explicit feedback requires that a search engine have the processing power for the new signals and can handle spam related problems that can arise. A deeper personalization that is based on groups of users, explicitly chosen, would do just that. What about the extra power needed under the hood? I have one word for you… Caffeine.

Google Contacts

From what we do know, others searching habits don’t affect your SERPs with the coming implementation. It is more the addition of social entries of contacts that may be relevant for a given query. I do though see all of this ultimately affecting the personalization of search results themselves somewhere in the future.


Google Contacts reccomendations


Back in Feb Read Write Web noted the following elements from an interview with Marissa Mayer on Social Search;

  1. Labelling
  2. Social Network Integration
  3. Users like you (recommendation engine)
  4. Social Influenced PageRank

Oh… and while we’re at it, see that last one? You should go back and read up on Personalized PageRank which also deals with a wider personalization that can include categorization and grouping of user types. It seems that a combination of the above social elements and PPR might just be a great mix under the hood at some point soon.


What will Google Social Search bring?

Well, it's too early to tell what these recent develpments might mean as we've only had a glimpse. I do know that the moment it becomes available there will be a TON of digging from this corner to see if and what any of these previously known elements might play into the Google Social Search model… it should be interesting.

If we look at some of the elements, the percieved benefits and potential savings (aids in spam detection) we can hopefully glimpse a possible future. While it may not be where we end up, it's always a healthy excercise for the search obsessed. It's funny how people keep writing (cough*baiting*cough) with things like 'SEO is dead' 'SEO is easy' and other crap. To me, each week I am seeing new evolutions and directions in search. If anything, the job just keeps getting harder, (and more interesting). As search engines evolve, so do we.


.... Stay tuned!


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