Is Social Search the Future of the Internet?

Expect more information from your social networks in your Google search results

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Concluding that social relationships are a good proxy for relevance, Google has announced that it will personalize your search experience to better surface the opinions of people you know.

Google, which first introduced social search features in 2009, will now mix data from the social networking sites you belong to--be it YouTube, Flickr, Twitter (but not Facebook)--with its traditional search results. If, for example, you want information on Brooklyn and a colleague has written a blog post about the borough, that post will appear high in your results along with the colleague's name and picture. If a friend recently shared an Atlantic Wire story on Brooklyn on Twitter, that story might show up higher than a story on Brooklyn that hasn't been shared by a friend. You'll need to link up your social networking accounts to your Google account and sign in to Google to see these changes.

What may be most interesting about the announcement is that as Google search gets more social, social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter are increasingly being used for search. Is the Internet experiencing a great convergence of search and social? If so, what does the dynamic mean for the future of the web?

A New World The Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal explains that if a connection of yours has shared a news story on Twitter, "one can assume that you'll be more interested in it than a similar story a friend hasn't shared. It portends a world of very personalized search results where your social graph (as the nerds call it) is as important as the innards of the content itself in determining what you see when you search." MG Siegler at TechCrunch adds that more robust social search could help Google combat the spam that some say has undermined the quality of its search results.P

But New World Isn't Necessarily Good Social information is helpful in some instances, The Next Web argues, and not helpful in others: "Quite often, I'm not looking for discussion or social features. I'm simply looking for facts or relevant information. Whether or not someone to whom I'm socially connected has shared that information doesn't necessarily come into play. In those cases, the addition of social seems to only muddy the waters, so to speak."

Google Itself May Not Have Faith in Power of Social Search As Business Insider reminds us, Google's Amit Singhal expressed doubt in an interview with BusinessWeek in January that social data can substantially increase the relevance of search results. Singhal said "social is just one signal. It's a tiny signal."

And the Kings of Search and Social Won't Be Converging Google may be getting more social, but it will be missing data from the most popular social networking site in the world. The search engine won't be including "Likes" from personal Facebook pages in its search results--a feature that rival search engine Bing offers. That's probably because Google objects to some of Facebook's terms and conditions for getting access to the data, Matt McGee explains' at Search Engine Land. But Seth Weintraub at Forbes adds that Google, in enlisting almost every prominent social network other than Facebook in its effort, "has shown it is capable of harnessing the social graph" and "countering any long term advantages the Facebook/Bing alliance my have."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.