This Facebook Hack Reverses Google's Self-Promoting Social Search

To prove a point, Facebook, MySpace and Twitter employees have joined forces to create a hack that gets around Google's preferential social search, providing the real, most relevant social-network related results.

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To prove a point, Facebook, MySpace and Twitter employees have joined forces to create a hack that gets around Google's preferential social search, providing the real, most relevant social-network related results. Google claims its search, which suggests Google+ profiles alongside search results, can't integrate other (useful) social networks because the company doesn't have the data to do it. While there's already an FTC investigation and bad press about Google's new search results, these other networks, led by Facebook product director Blake Ross, have created "Focus on the User," which aims to prove that Google has all the information it needs to provide comprehensive social search results.

Though the hack only changes the results in the People and Pages box, it's easy enough to use for those looking for some social search variety. The installation process involves dragging a bookmark to one's browser tab. Then, for purer results, the Googler just has to click that "don't be evil" bookmarklet. The Focus on the User site has been overwhelmed by traffic several times we tried accessing their site today. But when it was working, we had the best results by searching from Google.com, rather than the Google Chrome toolbar. In either case, it could sometimes take a few minutes to transform Google's search results.

Google's reliance on Google+ instead of other, more popular networks, has come in for criticism that it promotes its own product over providing useful information to searchers. The Focus on the User hack fixes that, replacing those Google+ suggested profiles with what a Google search would surface as the most relevant content. Specifically, the bug "looks at the three places where Google only shows Google+ results and then automatically googles Google to see if Google finds a result more relevant than Google+," explains the site. For example, without the bug, a Google search of "cooking," suggests a Google+ profile of chef Jamie Oliver might be useful to a web surfer, putting it at the very top of its "People and Pages from the Social Web" widget. At first, that makes sense, as Oliver is a popular chef. But his Google+ profile doesn't have much going on, as he hasn't updated it since December 3, 2011. As a Googler, this information doesn't help much. In fact, there are other social networks

And, Google's own search algorithms know that this Google+ profile is irrelevant, especially compared to activity on other social networks. A Google search for Jamie Oliver surfaces his popular Twitter feed and Facebook page on the first page of results with no sign of the Google+ profile. With the hack, Oliver's Twitter feed -- updated on January 20 -- gets highlighted, rather than his abandoned Google+ profile.

Not only is this much more useful than a Google+ profile with nothing on it, but Blake and company prove a good point: "All of the ranking decisions are made by Google's own algorithms. No other services or APIs are accessed." In response to the criticism, Google has blamed other social networks for opting out of its results.  In a statement to The Washington Post, Google said, "As always, our goal is to provide you with the most relevant and comprehensive search results possible. However, Google does not have access to crawl all the information on some sites, so it’s not possible for us to surface all that content. Google also doesn’t have access to the social graph information from some sites, so it’s not possible to help you find information from those people you’re connected to. We’d certainly be open to helping people more easily find information from other services, but we’d want to make sure we were providing a consistent user experiences with meaningful control.”

The video below gives a detailed explanation of how Focus on the User works with existing Google search capabilities.

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