VentureBeat talked to Google’s Marissa Mayer, vice president of Search Products & User Experience, about Google’s future: specifically about their future in social search. VentureBeat notes that as recently as August, Mayer “said social search hasn’t shown much promise, but if it does, Google would be in a good position to incorporate it.”
VB’s reporter asks some pretty good questions (which he admits he had help on), although he didn’t ask about the progress that Google has already made in creating social networks in Gmail and Google Reader.
Perhaps most interesting from her comments is a brief history and potential forecast of social search efforts at Google. However, there is one part that privacy advocates are sure to jump on (bolded here).
One thing we have tried…is labeling — have users annotate the search results they see and have those annotations be shared with people on their social network or with people of like mind and interest. We did that in the form of Google Co-Op… We’ve seen success there in things like health. There have been a few topical areas that have had a lot of traction, but overall the annotation model needs to evolve.
…Another classic thing to try is “other users like you,” where you build implicit social connections between users who are like each other, much like Amazon does with books. Examples: “Other users like you also searched for” or “other people who did this search also did searches.” It works to give you related queries, but again it doesn’t fundamentally change the social experience or capture that movie or restaurant recommendation request that would be one of the classical examples of verbal social search.
I think there is the possibility of taking a social network and combining some element of annotations and searches done. For example, if I have 400 friends on Facebook, and I knew 10 of them all searched for one topic today, that might interest me. So aggregate statistics might work. In truth, there are a bunch of things you could try. You can take the annotations that people enter through something like Google Co-Op and broadcast the annotations. Presumably when someone is writing a search result, they don’t mind if other people see it and read it. [Oh, right, which is why all these people who googled how to murder their spouses turned to you.]
PageRank itself relies on the link structure of the web to try to find the most authoritative pages. For example, it’s clear that people would attribute more authority to the pages that their friends have visited. So if we took Web History and allowed that data to influence rankings, such that pages that your friends have visited were now bumped up in your search ranking, that that might be a good augmentation to something like personalized search. In essence, it’s a fusion of personalized and social search. In this case, what we would do is say: This Gmail account which maps to Marissa Mayer then maps to these other friends, allow those friends to influence this ranking… But no, we have not done anything like that to date.
Mayer also notes that Google probably wouldn’t partner with a third-party site like MySpace or Facebook to find relationships between people and alter search results based on that, saying that it “would be non-intuitive.” However, “You can imagine us [Google] forging connections on our own, you can imagine us asking users what connections currently exist that they would like to use. Each of those are viable options.”
Is Google headed toward social search? Maybe eventually, but it looks like the official word is still “not now.”