Google Oct. 26 released Google Social Search, the company's stab at making search more personally relevant by putting content from searchers' contacts directly into search results.
Users must opt in to use the experimental service from Google Labs here. Google Social Service requires users to have a Google profile and be logged into their Google account. This is important because Google essentially builds a bridge between users' Google accounts and their Google profiles, surfacing users' content in what Google calls a "social circle."
This social circle includes users of social services Google users have listed in their Google profile. This includes all Gmail contacts and Gmail chat buddies, as well and people users are publicly connected to on social sites such as Twitter, FriendFeed and Google Picasa.
Those people you follow on Twitter and FriendFeed? They'll fall in the Google Social Search parameters, and content they post on those public Websites could show up in your Social Search results if it is relevant.
Users of Google Reader will also see blog posts from some of the Websites they've subscribed to as part of the social search results. Facebook, fiercely protective about what content it lets search engines index, is notably absent in this experiment.
Here's how it works. Users must log into Google and do a search. If there's Web content written by contacts relevant to the search query, Google's algorithm will sniff the content out and serve it up at the bottom of the search results page in a section called "Results from people in your social circle."
What kind of content will Google Social Search surface from your friends? Anything from restaurant reviews on Yelp to movie reviews on IMDB.com. Or it could simply be tweets or status updates.
Google Social Search Technical Lead Maureen Heymans and Google Product Manager Murali Viswanathan said they created Social Search to help users find publicly available content from friends that Google wouldn't normally return so easily in the traditional, impersonal regular search results. They explained:
""A lot of people write about New York, so if I do a search for [new york] on Google, my best friend's New York blog probably isn't going to show up on the first page of my results. Probably what I'll find are some well-known and official sites. ... When I do a simple query for [new york], Google Social Search includes my friend's blog on the results page under the heading 'Results from people in your social circle for New York.'""
Heymans, who noted users can filter results to see only content from their social circle by clicking "Show options" on the results page and clicking "Social," also provides this quick video demo here.
Google's search quality guru Matt Cutts walks through Social Search in more detail here, stressing that users who aren't signed into their Google account won't see their friends' content. Users can also delete social service links on their Google Profiles to prevent the content from being indexed. Search Engine Land's Danny Sullivan has a detailed walk-through here.
Marissa Mayer, vice president of search products and user experience for Google, announced the experiment at the Web 2.0 Summit Oct. 21. Mayer said then the launch was a few weeks away, but apparently Google decided the cake was baked well enough for users to bite.
Google is joining a space populated by Aardvark, ChaCha, Mahalo and several others. How Google's emergence in social search will affect those providers is unclear.