Google Social Search and the Battle for Social Dominance
Google has announced the release of Google Social Search; promising to bring the most relevant results to your queries by indexing the content submissions of your "social circle." Here's the quick version of how it works:
When you search on Google (through Google Labs) you can select "Social" from the "Show options" link on the top left of the page. This will present results from your social connections that are integrated with your Google account; Reader, Picasa, Blogs, Twitter, Gmail Chat and FriendFeed. So, if you include your Twitter profile on your Google account (more on that in a minute), you will get relevant results from the content submitted by all those you follow on Twitter. In addition, to round out your "extended social circle," you will get results from the followers of those you follow. Mixed with those results will be mentions of your search query in the blogs you follow through Reader, related photos on Picasa, and so on; down to any network you belong to and your contacts within that netowork - as long as they are included in your Google Profile. On the surface, it sounds pretty useful. And for some, it will be. But don't get too excited yet.
Think this will make a big impact on how consumers find your brand? Think again. Sure, millions of consumers have Gmail accounts. But it's a safe bet that a very small percentage of those users have a Google Profile set up, much less take advantage of Google Reader. That number likely continues to shrink for the number of those users who write blogs, and use Twitter or FriendFeed.
Try this - log out of Google then do a random search. Do you readily see the option to build a Google profile? Have you ever seen a complete Google rookie try to set up (much less understand) Google Reader, Twitter, FriendFeed or anything of that likeness? I'm reminded of a common saying in the industry; If you can't explain it to your Grandmother, you're doing it wrong ... or something to that effect. Go ahead and ask 10 random people over your next lunch hour if they've ever used Twitter, FriendFeed or Google Reader. The point is, we're dealing with a small segment of the consumer population.
What's missing from all the buzz on Google Social Search?
Make no mistake, Google and Facebook are at war - that's what this expirement is really about. Social Search is Google's early answer to Facebook Search and the countless connections being made and information being shared through Facebook. This is a war for the very social fabric of the Internet. Facebook (with likely millions more users than registered Google Profile users) will reveal social search in a way that's not limited to information from Google Profiles, but will include Google products - because Facebook doesn't limit anything that users want to share with their online network. Blogs can be included through Networked Blogs, Twitter can be integrated, photos can be shared and tagged, movies can be recommended ... there are even apps for most of that. Facebook has created a hub for social activity that's remarkably easy to use, which is why the age demographic keeps rising. Google is attempting to build a way to patch together a very fragmented social scene - it all has the feeling of a reeling empire trying to corral it's loyal subjects before an all-out desertion.
Google Social Search is not easy. In fact, it's quite confusing. Also, if you want to take advantage of Google Social Search, be prepared to limit yourself to one Google profile and its contacts. At this time, you cannot merge profiles - for those of you who have mulitple Gmail addresses or profiles for multiple reasons ... like me.
Finally, understand that this should serve as a major red flag to those who don't quite yet grasp that everything you publish online is public domain unless you explicitly protect it. Think about it like this: If I use Google Social Search, I might get results from your Twitter account (or Digg submission, or Flickr account, etc.) even though you have no idea who I am. It could be that I follow someone on Twitter who you follow ... one of those 1,000 people you follow in hopes of gaining more followers yourself. Your online network just expanded to all registered Google users ... whether you like it or not. Be careful what you say - Google is listening ... and indexing.