The USPTO published yesterday a patent awarded to Google that provides clues to Google's plans for social search, including details about how Google will use human editors to help facilitate algorithmic search.
The patent, system and method for supporting editorial opinion in the ranking of search results, describes processes whereby Google can better judge user search intent based upon whether the query matches a "theme" of queries on Google's servers.
Those "themes" include topics commonly occurring in search queries from users in Google's network. According to the patent, editors will develop these query themes by looking at search query logs and developing categories of information.
The editors develop query themes by surveying user search logs, experimenting with test search queries, and examining search results lists.
The patent also includes details about distinguishing between "favored" and "non-favored" sources. Such sources would be determined by a variety of factors, including host name.
It's worth keeping in mind that the patent process is a long one, and some, none, or all of the processes mentioned in this patent may be in use currently. In my experience, it seems that Google makes announcements of new products or features within days or weeks of a patent's publication. However, the processes described in this patent could very well just be describing Google Co-Op, released earlier this year.
What's most interesting to me about this patent, though, is that Krishna Bharat, inventor of Google News, is listed as one of the inventors. Google said recently that it was making some changes to Google News. And, I've mentioned before that I think Google could learn a lot from other news aggregators out there. Perhaps it's about to apply social search algos to news? (Here's a great interview with Bharat on OJR.)
Another clue: If I'm not mistaken, inventor Georges R. Harik has worked on gene linkage algorithm problems before, and he was responsible in part for serving ads in Gmail.
Finally, Marissa Mayer is also listed as an inventor on the patent.