Google Feb. 17 said it will begin mixing its Social Search results throughout results pages based on their relevance, an effort to raise the profile of a feature that hasn't drawn much attention.
Google launched Social Search in October 2009, adding blog posts, reviews and other content from searchers' contacts into search results. The idea was to offer content that could help inform searchers decisions about restaurants, trips and other plans.
While the effort helped Google dip a toe in the social software pool created by Facebook and Twitter, it was hampered by the fact that it previously dumped Social Search content at the bottom of results pages.
This hindered user participation in the service, which requires users to have Google profiles and Google accounts because it scrapes contacts from users' Gmail, Twitter, Google Buzz, Quora and Flickr accounts, among other sources.
Going forward, users could see content their Social Search contacts have shared within the first few results on a page. Content such as links and videos shared a great deal by friends on multiple Web services will get a higher ranking on Google.com for searchers who opted into Social Search.
"So if you're thinking about climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro and your colleague Matt has written a blog post about his own experience, then we'll bump up that post with a note and a picture," wrote Mike Cassidy, Google product management director, in a blog post linking to the example.
While Social Search previously only surfaced content people created and linked through their Google profiles, the service now includes notes for links people have shared on Twitter and other sites.
For example, a user connected to someone who has shared a link on, say, Twitter, Google may render that link with an annotation in their results.
Finally, users may connect accounts privately in their Google Account in addition to those found in their public Google profile. Google is rolling out the updates today on Google.com in English.
By raising Social Search results from relative obscurity at the bottom of search results pages, Google is signaling its intent to bring more awareness to its social capabilities, perhaps presaging the arrival of its Google +1 services.
Analysts envision this service will, like Social Search, leverage Gmail, Google profiles and Google accounts as a massive graph to help connect as many as Google's 1 billion-plus searchers as possible.
The idea is to challenge Facebook, which has built a massive network of 600 million-plus people who connect and communicate on the Website. Google tried a more serious effort to socialize Gmail last year with Google Buzz, but that service has languished.