Google's Social Search service, which includes public content from users' social networks in search results, is getting promoted to Google.com from the company's Labs site, meaning it is no longer considered an early prototype.
In the coming days, Google will let English-language users of its search engine see relevant links to items their social-networking contacts have posted publicly on the web. Social Search results will also appear in the Google Images engine, the company said in a blog post.
To use Social Search, users have to be signed in to their Google account. Google also recommends that people create a Google Profile, which they can then populate with addresses to their blogs, social networks, photo sharing accounts and so on. Google can then harvest the contacts and connections in those sites, as well as in Google services like Gmail and Google Reader, and index publicly available, relevant content for these users' Social Search query results.
Because Google sees many potential improvements and extensions to Social Search in the near future, it is slapping a "beta" tag on it, to indicate the product is likely to evolve considerably. "We think there's tremendous potential for social information to improve search, and we're just beginning to scratch the surface," wrote Maureen Heymans, technical lead for Social Search, and Terran Melconian, technical lead for Social Image Search, in the blog post.
In addition to the Social Search effort, Google is also indexing public posts from social networks and returning links to them in search results even for users who aren't signed in to their Google account. Google has recently started inserting such links into its main list of results, as well as giving users the option to only see these types of results for their query.
Incorporating social networking content into its search index is both a necessary complement to its search results and a competitive move for Google, said industry analyst Greg Sterling from Sterling Market Intelligence.
Content from sites like Twitter has proven increasingly valuable for identifying trends and for following breaking news events. Google is aware that Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and other social networks are nabbing a bigger portion of the time people spend online.
"You can see [social network search results] as a valuable new source of information and content that helps people make decisions and be informed," he said. "You can also see this as an attempt to preempt the defection of people to these other services."
"There is both an objective reason for doing it and a competitive reason. Both are present here in this product launch," Sterling added.
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