We’ve been discussing how Facebook could enhance web search through using social data. Google has seemingly responded with — for now — an experiment.
Google is letting you vote on search results in order to influence which search results you will see in the future.
Your vote only applies to what Google search results you will see, so it’s not currently “social.” This may prove valuable as a stand-alone service.
However, In August, Marissa Mayer, Google’s leading executive in search, said Google would be well positioned to compete in social search. After we posted about this three weeks ago, some observers questioned why we still haven’t seen Google social efforts.
This is the company’s first step.
Google possesses knowledge of who your friends are, based on its collaborative services like Gmail, Gtalk, Google Docs and its social network, Orkut. By knowing who you email, IM and otherwise collaborate with, Google could tailor results based on the search results these people also find most valuable.
It’s unclear if Google’s social information can describe which relationships matter, as well as Facebook. Orkut also has “friend” designations, but its network isn’t as extensive as Facebook’s. Both networks can guess the strength of friend connections based on the frequency friends exchange messages or visit user profiles, among other factors. Facebook News Feed already incorporates what your friends do and how you interact with friends, according to the company.
However, Google is also gaining access to user data based in OpenSocial, an early stage project that will let developers build applications across social networks like Myspace and Bebo.
On the other hand, if Google demonstrates user voting enhances search results, then Facebook could learn from Google’s success. Facebook could use its social graph, the billions of connections among Facebook’s 55 million active users, to add the “social” aspect to search.
Although the Google experiment is explained here, the main experiment page does not yet permit users to actually join and see the experiment in action.
A week ago, Facebook added user voting of its own for the News Feed. Google’s voting follows Facebook’s approach — click “thumbs up” to say you like it, or click “x” to say it’s uninteresting. The only difference is clicking “x” on Google’s version actually removes the result, including from future searches. In contrast, clicking “x” on Facebook minimizes and blurs the story. User votes help Facebook both personalize the News Feed and rank quality of News Feed stories generated by third-party developers.
[Disclosure: Doug Sherrets owns a small number of Facebook shares.]