By Jennifer LeClaire / CIO Today. Updated October 22, 2009.
As the battle for real-time search heats up, Microsoft and Google both inked deals with Twitter on Wednesday. Microsoft's Bing and Google will integrate tweets into their search results.
But Google took it a step further with a surprise announcement about Social Search at the Web 2.0 Conference in San Francisco late Wednesday. Social Search is a Google Labs experiment that will deliver search results from a user's social contacts.
Here's how it works: The bottom of the search-results page will feature social-networking information from the user's network of friends. That could include Flickr photos, Facebook updates, tweets and the like.
Searching for Social Search
Marissa Mayer, Google's vice president of search products and user experience, demonstrated Social Search at the conference. She used planning a trip to New Zealand as an example and she was able to find information written by people in her social network who had visited the country. The content included travel logs and photos.
In another example, Mayer demonstrated how people can find restaurant reviews written by friends. "We think this is great from a precision and relevance standpoint," Mayer said. "We're really excited to be able to offer this type of service to our users."
The catch is, only those social networks that are connected to a user's Google Profile will appear. Google Profile aims to ensure people find the right user information when they search online. The more of the user's friends, family and coworkers who have Google Profiles, the more information the search will find.
"If Google gets enough participation, then Social Search could be useful and interesting. It's contingent on how many people are involved," said Greg Sterling, principal analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence. "It's not going to be meaningful if none of your friends, relatives and associates are participating."
Google Meets Twitter
Not to be outdone by Microsoft, Google also announced an agreement with Twitter on the heels of the Bing deal. Google sees real-time results on Twitter as a way for people to communicate their thoughts and feelings and as an interesting source of data about what is happening now on a particular topic.
"We believe that our search results and user experience will greatly benefit from the inclusion of this up-to-the-minute data, and we look forward to having a product that showcases how tweets can make search better in the coming months," Mayer said. "That way, the next time you search for something that can be aided by a real-time observation, say snow conditions at your favorite ski resort, you'll find tweets from other users who are there and sharing the latest and greatest information."
As Sterling sees it, Social Search and Twitter integrations tap into the power of word-of-mouth marketing. These tools, he said, expose users to recommendations or information they might get if they had the ability to talk to everybody they know.
"There are a couple of hoops to jump through and it depends to some degree on how Google promotes it and educates people about its benefits," Sterling said. "Google is getting better about that, but it's not a foregone conclusion that they'll put a lot of effort into Social Search."