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As Search Becomes Too Personal, Social is Less Personal

Is anyone else concerned about far Google is taking its social search strategy?

Google has many irons in the digital media fire these days, but Google, the search engine, is our primary association with the information giant.  That is because Google fought passed AOL, Yahoo, ASK, etc, by continually revising its search algorithm to deliver the most relevant search results.  The level of trust the general public has for the search engine is evident through the consistent majority of the search market share that Google holds.

In February we got the first taste of Google social search capabilities.  Since then we have seen routine developments by Google to make the search engine experience increasingly integrated with social preferences.  The Google +1 button is added to contend with ‘Likes’ and then Google launches  a living breathing social platform project of its own in Google+.  All of these social media implementations and more will certainly play a role in how searchers find information on Google in the future.

This month the search engine continued its social Online Cruise Director role through Google Places updates.  Using information gathered from social media, the improvements will prioritize listings in Google Places based on the searcher’s personal interests and recommendations made by friends.

This increased reliance on social media for search requires users to take their social activity much more seriously to be served useful search results while logged into Google.  If I half-heartedly ‘Liked’ a brand or business a year ago, I may have made a long lasting search commitment to that entity that I wasn’t ready for at that time.  The same is true for casual acquaintances.  Like it or not, their opinions are going to be important to Google through rank, whether or not they are important to me.

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I wonder if this growing social search focus will have any implications for how Google’s relevance is perceived in the future.  Especially since not all search queries performed are appropriate for social integration.  I have heard many people express their intention to make sure they are not logged into Google when they are performing searches to ensure their search results are reliable and not skewed by social engagement.

Google indicates in its recent announcement regarding the Google Places update that the changes are based on the “loud and clear” feedback Google has received about how friends’ reviews will allow search engine users to find the places that are the best fit for what they are looking for.  Although a search engine supplying recommendations and comments of known acquaintances certainly makes it easier to get that information, it appears that the newest social development will inevitably lead us another step farther away from actually participating in our online social world.  Keeping up with friends primarily through social platforms like Facebook is arguably driving more distance between social interactions.  The depth to friendships will likely lessen the more it becomes the norm to share important milestones solely through status updates and wall photos.  “No need to make the time to see Sally and Bob’s baby boy because they posted an album last night .”  With the new developments for Google Places we now don’t even have to reach out to our social contacts for recommendations.  We can just get their feedback through the Google search engine, thereby limiting future exchanges within our social community.

The integration of the worlds of social and search are technologically fascinating, and will often be a great help for certain search queries, but I think there is a significant possibility that making social a dominant part of search is a giant step back for information discovery.

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