Google will start rolling out on Tuesday a tight integration between its search engine and two of its social media sites: Google+ and Picasa Web, in the company's latest move to deepen its social search capabilities.
With this link, Google hopes to make it easier for people to find not only information on public Web pages, but also content they and their friends have posted and made available to each other privately through the Google+ social network and the Picasa Web photo upload and sharing site.
However, at this point, those are the only two sites whose content will surface on this type of search result, which means that users will not see content they and their friends have shared privately on other Google social media sites such as YouTube or Blogger, nor on non-Google sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
Google Fellow Ben Smith said Tuesday's move is just the beginning for Google search in the area of privately shared social media content. "There's a lot of opportunities for us to expand this," he said during an interview.
Still, at this point, it seems an over-promise for Google to refer to this new functionality as "Search, plus Your World," the phrase it has chosen to refer to this feature.
For example, it remains to be seen whether Google will be able to strike an agreement with Facebook, a rival in the social-networking and online ad markets with whom it has had a very strained relationship. In addition, Google last year reportedly let lapse a two-year deal with Twitter that gave it access to Twitter's "firehose" of real-time tweets.
Smith declined to comment specifically on potential future deals with Twitter and Facebook, but it's clear that Google's search engine will not be delivering people's entire "world" of online social connections if it can't help them find content that their Facebook and Twitter contacts have shared with them privately.
Google launched its social search initiative in 2009, after realizing, along with other search providers such as Microsoft, that social media sites had become so popular as to contain a wealth of interesting and relevant content that was worth including in search results.
With social search, Google users can see result links not only for Web pages that the Google algorithms determine are relevant to anyone entering a particular query, but also result links that are deemed relevant because users' specific social media contacts tagged them with the Google +1 button or shared them using a social media service.
Until this week, Google had kept its social search functionality focused on information that people's social contacts have shared publicly with everyone on the Web. In addition to mining Google sites for this content, the Google search engine can also show links from people's contacts on other social media sites such as Twitter, Flicker and Digg. To see this type of result, Google users have to be signed into their Google Account and must have given Google access to their non-Google social media feeds.
What is changing now is that Google users will be able to see in their search results Google+ posts and Picasa photos that they have privately posted or that contacts have shared specifically with them. Those search results will be labeled "personal results" on the search page.
In addition, Google will include links to Google+ profiles of people's contacts and of people Google determines they might be interested in connecting with. Google calls this feature "Profiles in Search."
Finally, Google will surface Google+ profiles of individuals and Google+ promotional pages related to a topic the user may be interested in. Google will also include controls in the search page interface for people to add these profiles and pages to their list of Google+ contacts.
As with the existing social search functionality, Google users must be signed into their Google Accounts in order to see these new privately shared and posted Google+ posts and Picasa Web photos. In both cases, these social results are delivered specifically to the user in question, based on their social contacts.
In addition to private content, the new Google+ and Picasa Web results can also include content that the user or his contacts have posted or shared publicly.
Juan Carlos Perez covers search, social media, online advertising, e-commerce, web application development, enterprise cloud collaboration suites and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanCPerezIDG.
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