FRAMINGHAM 4 MARCH 2011 - Once viewed as tools for posting trivial content on the Web, social networking and social media sites have evolved as bona fide sources of information publishing and sharing, forcing search engine providers to increasingly factor them into their services. Google isn't an exception: it launched a formal Social Search component to its search engine in 2009 and has updated it regularly since then. With Social Search, people can link their Google accounts to their social media accounts and have Google incorporate relevant content from their social circle into search results.
Google sees a lot of potential to expand Social Search's scope and increase its usefulness. Last month, for example, Social Search results gained a more prominent placement in the results page, moving from a default spot at the bottom to the main list. Currently, Social Search only taps content that is already publicly available on the Web, highlighting to users when that content has been shared by one of their social contacts. This means that Facebook content is largely absent from Social Search, a glaring omission by all accounts. At the same time, rival engine Bing, thanks to a years-long and wide-ranging partnership between Microsoft and Facebook, is getting access to valuable data from Facebook's Like button that is currently not available to Google. The problem is compounded by the fact that as Facebook's popularity and power have grown exponentially in recent years, so has the animosity between it and Google.
IDG News Service recently had a chance to chat with Mike Cassidy, a Google product management director overseeing Social Search, about the service's goals, opportunities, challenges and plans. An edited version of the interview follows:
What is the current goal of Google's Social Search service? We launched Social Search in 2009 and have made steady progress. The relevance of search results increasingly depends on more than just the content on a Web page. It also depends on the relationship between the searcher and the person who created or shared that page. In many cases, the mere fact that someone you know created a page or "tweeted" about it makes it more relevant by definition for you. The other thing is that recommendations from friends are among the most powerful in the world. We're just trying to automate that with Google Social Search.
We're also trying to organize the information created and shared by your friends. There are tons of sites where people share great content. Over 100 million times a day people share or create content on the Web, whether through Flickr, or Twitter or questions on Quora. We want to find that information out there and make it available to the users whenever it's relevant to the query they're doing.
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