Google Continues to Roll with Social Search


Don't be frightened. It's just Google taking over the Social Web - again.

Google launched Social Search yesterday and at first glance it’s another game changer.

Google is on quite a roll adding social media features.  Last month, it launched the controversial Sidewiki application.  At the rate Google is going it will not only own the web, but the social web – by the end of next week.

But in all seriousness this is another example of Google closing the net around social media – and distancing itself from other search companies like Bing and Yahoo and putting pressure on social networking companies like Facebook and Twitter.

And just like Google Sidewiki, which brought up important questions regarding web site ownership and the how brands can control their brand image on their own web sites, Google Social Search (now available via Google Labs) comes with a set of big set of interesting questions.  This time mostly around privacy (if that even exists anymore).

Google will now tap into your online social circle from places like Facebook, Twitter and your Gmail account to pull out the identities of those people you are connected with.  You can edit the list, of course, but in order for Social Search to work you need to give Google access to your social networking accounts (and in many cases – Google already has that information.  Scary? Kind of.).

A larger question looms about the shrinking influence of mainstream media – and of traditional spheres of influence such as corporations, governments, organizations, etc.  Are we becoming a society that places too much value on the limited input of our social circles?  Is third-party validation from sources outside our social circles becoming increasingly irrelevant?

So what is Social Search?

With Social Search activated you now have access to the public record of your social circle on any issue you inquire Google about.  In other words, Social Search gives you back search results related to people you know from your social networks.

How does this work?  If you are interested in a specific restaurant in Boston and do a search on the restaurant name – the Social Search option will present you with results related to your friends.  So if any of your friends reviewed the restaurant on Yelp or tweeted about it or wrote a blog posts on the experience – it will be featured in the Social Search results at the bottom of your search page results.

For example, I did a search on the “Boston Globe.” The first search back on the regular Google Search was for – the online version of the Boston Globe newspaper.  However, in Social Search the first result back was a blog post by Paul Gillin on his blog “Newspaper Death Watch.”  The blog post was about the New York Times threatening to shutdown the Globe back in April.

Why Paul Gillin (the author and social media consultant)?

Because Paul and I are connected via Gmail.  I interviewed Paul way back in February for my blog’s Hightalking interview series.  Since Paul and I conducted the interview through Gmail – Google has a record of the conversation and places Paul within my social circle as someone I trust (Paul and I are also connected through LinkedIn).

Social Search works with the idea that people are interested in what their friends have to say about issues that interest them.  It tightens the net around your extended network – and makes them a valuable commodity for you.  But the concept is a powerful one because don’t we innately trust our social circle?  Isn’t it cool to think we can find results on the web about books, restaurants, music, movies, business functions, software, etc. and that our friends can provide us with valuable information?

But it also has the ability to make us too reliant on that network – and perhaps narrows our world views to only those people closest to us.

Social Search also decreases the influence of brands.  So in the example above – the Boston Globe no longer has the top spot and the chance to direct traffic back to its site.  It now has to compete with the social circle of – well – everyone.

Lots of great fodder for debate.  What are your thoughts about Google’s Social Search?

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