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Social Search is Coming

In a recent interview with


, Marissa Mayer, Google’s VP of Search
Products & User Experience, spoke of Google’s interest in social search and
their future plans in that area. Social search, which may be the defining
quality of Google’s next generation of search products, is any search that is
aided by a social interactions or connections. Offline, social search happens
everyday. For example, when you ask a friend for a recommendation on a movie to
see or a good restaurant, you’re essentially doing a verbal social search.
Online, social search has not been incorporated in Google’s search results
yet, but Mayer says that will change in time.

Privacy Issues

Integrating social search into search results is tricky, says Mayer, because
people view search as a private activity. Most people just aren’t that
comfortable letting their whole network of friends know what they have been
searching for. Google knows that they must respect that privacy, so they would
want the user to explicitly approve any friend connections that would be used to
add social elements to the search results. (In other words, you won’t just log
on one day and find your  Google search results re-ranked based on what your
MySpace friends are doing.)

How Will It Work?

When asked how Google is planning on implementing social search, Mayer
mentions a few different ideas they have which include labeling, identifying
users like you, social network integration, and a social-influenced PageRank.

Labeling: With labeling, Google users could annotate the search results and
those notes could then be shared with friends on their social network or with
others like them. She mentions that this has worked to some extent in Google
Co-Op in certain areas, like health, but overall annotation is not a model that
works well in its current state. However, the benefit of annotation is that it
avoids the privacy issues because someone who is labeling search results
presumably does not mind that others would see those notations.

Users Like You: Another option might involve Google taking a page from
Amazon’s book, and adding “others like you searched for …” or “other people
who did this search also did searches…” to Google’s search results.
Although useful, these related queries don’t truly integrate results from your
friends, nor do they influence the search result rankings, so they are not the
best example of pure social search.  

Social Network Integration: To identify your friends and allow them to
influence search results, Google may even try social network integration with
search. Using aggregate statistics on your friends’ searches would allow privacy
to be maintained, but you would also be able to see trends that are important to
you. Initially Google would leverage the Google user base and the connections
that exist within it. However, 3rd party social network integration may come in
time as well. Mayer uses the example of how you could see that several of your
Facebook friends had searched for a particular topic one day – a stat that would
be provided without user names. If a large number of your friends are searching
for something, it’s likely that you may be interested in that topic, too.

Social-Influenced PageRank: With today’s version of PageRank, it’s the link
structure of the web that determines the most authoritative pages. However,
Google believes that people would naturally give more authority to pages their
friends visit. To bring in this influence, Google could take web history and
then allow that data to influence rankings, so that pages that your friends
visit would rank higher in search results. Today, Google web history is still an
opt-in option and if it was going to be used to influence rankings, that would
hopefully be an opt-in choice as well, but Mayer does not go into that level of

The Future

So, what is the future of search? Mayer responds, “I think one way it will be
better is in understanding more about you and understanding more about your
social context: Who your friends are, what you like to do, where you are. It’s
hard to imagine that the search engine ten years from now isn’t advised by those

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