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Searching, Socially!

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When you last tried to decide on what movie to see this weekend, what factors did you take into consideration? Did you go to rottentomatoes.com to get critics’ reviews? Did you go to Facebook and ask your friends what you should see? Or did you click over to your favorite search engine and simply search for the title? Both Google and Bing are attempting to take the guesswork out of finding the most relevant content online.

The two competing search engines are now optimizing their search results pages to include “social search” results. Social searches typically feature content that has been shared by the searcher’s social network. The content, such as blog posts, shared links, tweets, and other media can be much more relevant to a person’s activities, interests and geographical location. After all—who do you trust more?—The opinions of critics or the people you already know and trust?

For example, a searcher can see which of his or her results have been shared, liked, or tweeted by someone in their network.  If you search for “great hiking spots in the northeast,” you will be directed to set of relevant search results via Google or Bing. Your social results will reveal the tastes and considerations of your network. One link may display “shared by Mike T. via Twitter on March 19” below its description. Another result may be a Flickr profile with pictures taken along a trail by your friend Alana. She shared the pictures via Twitter a few days ago.

Perhaps you want to search for “reviews of northeast hiking trails” instead. If many of your friends are hikers, or you follow hiking-related Twitter feeds or Flickr accounts, you may see a set of results that have been liked or shared by the hikers in your network. The value of a social search is that the opinions of your friends probably have a much higher relevance for the searcher than just any search result.

Google’s social search results have been available since 2009 and have recently undergone some changes. The new Google Profile allows you to link your Google account to various social networking and media sites like Picasa, Flickr, Twitter, Quora, Facebook and others. Any relevant links that your friends have posted will be bumped up to the first or second page of results. Via your Google Profile, you can customize what other people can see publicly or what you want to share privately, via Google Accounts. Here are a few examples of how social search is displayed within Google:

Bing was first on the social search scene, connecting its search results directly to users’ Facebook and Twitter networks by way of Bing.com/social. In late March 2011, Bing began to include the Bing.com/social data in its news results. The sharing options look something like this:

Social searchers can also view a real-time Twitter feed of the latest news topics related to a search. In just one click, a searcher can compare the opinions of journalists from reputable sources with the updates of their friends and family.

Additionally, Bing has expanded the functionality of its Liked Results page, which features the media that has been liked or shared by friends on Facebook and Twitter.

Bing’s Entertainment pages are also being expanded upon. The Entertainment pages allow a searcher to click the “overview” tab and immediately share their opinion on any entertainment-related story. Generally, Bing’s Entertainment page allows for commentary on movies, video games, TV shows, and musicians. Click over to Facebook and you can continue the discussion via likes, shares, and comments.

The social search is already revolutionizing the way we utilize search engine technologies. The question is: Who knows you and your networks better? Google or Bing?

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