Remind Me: What’s Google Social Search?
For those unfamiliar with Google Social Search, it launched across all of Google in January, after initially rolling out as an experiment last October.
When you’re signed in to Google, the service shows matching web pages and other content on the topic of your search that’s created by your friends or others that Google has determined that you’re “connected” to.
For example, on a search at Google for JetBlue, this is an example of the social search results I’ve personally seen:
If you don’t see Google social search results when signed in and doing a search:
- Google might not feel there are relevant social results to show to you
- You might not have much of a social circle, which can be fixed with some of the methods described below
- Google just might be having a glitch, which is hitting me today
You can also “force” Google to show social results by doing a search, then selecting the “More Search Tools” drop-down button (see Meet The New Google Look & Its Colorful, Useful “Search Options” Column about this) and choosing “Social” from the “All results” section.
And Google Finds My Social Circle How?
How does Google determine my social network? My previous article, Google Social Search Launches, Gives Results From Your Trusted Social Circle, is an in-depth look at this. In short, Google examines:
- Google Reader: if you have a Google Reader account, any content such as blogs that you subscribe to are considered part of your circle
- Google Chat: anyone you’ve enabled to chat with is considered part of your social circle
- Google Contacts: Anyone you’ve classified as friends, family or coworkers is part of your circle
- Google Profile: Anyone’s content you’ve associated with yourself via your profile is examined to locate people to add to your circle
The last part, how your Google Profile is used to find friends and social connections, is the hardest to understand. It’s also key to today’s change.
Google Profiles allow you to associate yourself with content you’ve created across the web. (To understand more about Google Profiles, see our previous article, Hoping To Improve People Search, Google Launches Profile Results).
For example, here’s how I’ve added links to my content to my own Google Profile:
From these links, Google can figure out who some of my friends are. For instance, take the link to my Twitter account:
- I link to my Twitter account from my Google Profile
- Google reads who my friends are from my Twitter account (this is public information)
- Now I might get tweets from my friends showing in my social search results
- One of my friends links to their blog from their Twitter profile (again, public information)
- Google now understands that my friend has that blog
- Now I might get blog posts from that friend in my social search results
And even further:
- The friend’s blog has a link to their Flickr account (once again, public info)
- Now I might get links to their Flickr content in my social search results
All this is possible simply because I’ve linked to my Twitter account from my Google Profile. From that, Google can follow “social links” to content my friends have created across the web.
From Google Profiles To Google Buzz
The problem is, Google says, that not everyone has fully pimped their Google Profile pages to “connect” to content that in turn would connect them with friends. For example, maybe they haven’t linked their Twitter account to their profile. That means Google can’t “see” as well who their friends are.
This is where Google Buzz comes in. Since that service launched, people have had an entirely new way to connect content to themselves, through their Google Buzz accounts. Here’s an example from my account:
You can see that I’ve connected six sites to my Buzz account, and there’s an option to connect more.
Google tells me, when I spoke with them today, that there are many people who have more sites connected to their Buzz account than to their Google Profile. So today, Google’s now using Buzz’s “Connected Sites” feature to help determine who is in your social circle for social search results.
The stupid thing is that you have to depend on Google Buzz making a best guess about sites you want to have connected with your Google Buzz profile, which in turn comes off what you’ve listed in your Google Profile page — the same page that Google says people don’t seem to use that much.
Want to add something that’s not listed in Google Buzz connected sites? You have to go to your Google Profile, add a link to this, then hope that Buzz decides to allow you to make that a connected site (and in my experience, this is very hit and miss).
Google Buzz, of course, has struggled with privacy issues. Is this move a new cause for concern. It shouldn’t be. Only you will see your social search results, when you’re logged in to Google. No one else sees these. And everything you see is already out on the public web in the first place.
Each person also gets their own unique social results. You can also see exactly who is in your social circle through new features that rolled out in January (see Google Social Search Goes Live, Adds New Features for more about this).
Hey, what about this new rumored “Google Me” social service from Google. Is that going to be used? Yeah, Google had no comment about even if there is such a service. But if this is an overhaul of Google Profiles and/or Google Buzz, yes, I’d expect it eventually to get integrated into Google Social Search.