Google Search Gets Personal: Social Search Launches in Google Labs

Social Search just went live in Google Labs. Google announced that it was working on this Social Search feature at the Web 2.0 Summit last week, but at that time, Google’s Marissa Mayer announced that it would only be available “in a few weeks.” Social Search taps into a user’s social network profiles and displays relevant links and status updates that members of a user’s own social network have shared at the bottom of the default search results page. According to Google, Social Search will enhance the search experience on Google by providing users with more personally relevant search results.

To get started, you first have to head over to Google Labs‘s experimental section and activate this feature. For now, Social Search will only be available in the US and in English.

Sources: Gmail Contacts, Google Reader Subscriptions and Your Google Profile

Social Search can tab into three different sources, so you will need accounts on at least one of these services to make Social Search work.

Social search uses the Gmail contacts you have added to your friends and coworker lists and those you have chatted with on Google Talk. Social search also looks at your Google Reader subscriptions and the social networking profiles you have added to your Google Profile.

While you don’t need to have a Google Profile, this service is a hub for your social networking profile on Social Search. Based on the information in your Google Profile, Google can auto-detect your social networking profiles and your friends on services like Flickr, FriendFeed, YouTube, Reddit, Digg, del.icio.us, BrightKite and many others.

How it Works and How to Trigger Social Search Explicitly

Once activated, Social Search results will appear at the bottom of the standard search results page and will be clearly labeled as “results from people in your social circle.” As Google’s search evangelist Matt Cutts pointed out to us in an interview earlier today, it is important to note that not every search will trigger Social Search results. When it does, however, the results should be highly relevant.

You can also explicitly trigger Social Search from the search options panel. There, Google will now also present a list of your friends that it thinks are the most closely related to the keywords you were searching for. By clicking on a name, you can restrict your search even further and just see results from this one person.

Social Search Makes Google Profiles More Useful

This new feature will also put a new emphasis on Google Profiles. Google has made some moves to make these profiles more prominent by highlighting some profiles when users search for people, but Google Profiles has generally not received a lot of attention from users. Now, however, as the hub for Social Search, users have an incentive to fill out their profiles – which, of course, will also give Google more information about you and your social network.

Privacy Concerns?

We talked to Google Fellow Amit Singhal, search evangelist Matt Cutts, and Maureen Heymans (the Technical Lead for Social Search) and Murali Viswanathan (the Product Manager for Social Search) earlier today and the team was obviously excited about this launch. The Social Search team was especially excited about the fact social search will now make your friends’ knowledge far more accessible than ever before and that this will make it easier to find trusted product reviews and local search results.

We also asked the team about how they thought users would react to the fact that Google indexes and surfaces all of their social networking profiles and connections, which could spark some privacy concerns. In reaction to this, Matt Cutts pointed out that all of the info that Google indexes is already publically available on the Internet, including a user’s friend connections. He also stressed that this was an opt-in experiment.

Social Search as “A Big Chess Move Against Facebook”

As our own Marshall Kirkpatrick pointed out last week, Social Search can also be seen as a “big chess move against Facebook.” Both Google and Facebook want users to come to their sites to see what their friends are saying about a given topic. Google, however, can’t tap into your social circle on Facebook and hence won’t be able to highlight status updates from your Facebook friends, which explains why Google needed to make a deal with Twitter to get access to status updates from their service.

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