Google has now released Social Search in beta for all users. While this could mark the start of an exciting new era in organic search engine optimisation, there is one severe limitation to this feature.
Social search started as an experiment in Google Labs, undertaken to try and make search more social and personalised. Based on the number of sign ups to try this feature, Google has now released it in beta on their regular search results in the USA.
With this new feature, when users query Google, they will receive all the relevant results as usual. Google will additionally search for information on the subject that has been posted by the users’ contacts on their blogs and social networks and add that information as “Results from your social circle” in the search results page.
Users might give more weight to these social results in some cases, as they already know and trust the opinions of the contacts these results were based on.
The social feature has now also been implemented for Google Images. When a user does an image search, Google will include photos from the user’s contacts’ accounts on public sites like Picasa and Flickr. These results will also be shown under the heading “Results from your social circle”.
Two new links are visible alongside every set of social search results – “My Social Circle”, which shows the extended network of the user’s online contacts and how they are connected and “My Social Content” which lists the user’s public pages that might appear on other people’s social results.
Where Social Search Stops Being Social
The last point mentioned above, though, might be the single biggest shortcoming of social search. Google relies on social information that is public. Unfortunately for them, the largest social network in the world, Facebook is largely closed off to search spiders. Public information on Facebook is sparse, at best.
Since these services are still in beta, Google probably expects to be able to improve upon them further in due course. If social search is to be truly social Google’s improvement efforts might need to focus on obtaining content from Facebook without violating user privacy.