Google's efforts to infuse its services with social elements have been relatively lackluster when not being outright stumbles, like the company's privacy-challenged launch of Buzz last year. Google has a popular social network, Orkut, but that popularity remains confined to Brazil. And the service has been losing ground to Facebook in critical markets like India.
Google hopes to deploy more compelling social offerings this year and its latest effort along these lines demonstrates at least that the company is serious about social connectivity. Google is weaving social into search, its core service.
Google on Thursday said that it has begun mixing social content -- friends' posts to various services like YouTube, Flickr and the like -- with its algorithmically determined search results.
So if your friends blog or tweet about their favorite coffee shops, your searches for coffee will return their musings, provided your friends aren't posing somewhere that Google can't reach, like past Facebook's privacy settings.
Previously, social search results were more like the dregs of relevance, settling at the bottom of the search results page were they were less likely to be noticed.
Google is also emphasizing search results that have been shared as links through other services. For example, if you were searching for a specific video and a friend had posted a tweet about that video and Google knew you and your friend were connected, then it might add information about that tweet to the search result link associated with your video query.
To help Google understand who you're connected to -- to promote the creation of social graphs tied to Google Account -- the company is offering greater privacy. Previously, Google users had to enter information about their accounts at other Web services into their Google Profile. This created a public association between users' account identities. Now, Google is allowing users to make these associations private, so that the entire Internet won't see, for example, that email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org are the same person.
However, Google says it will invite users to connect identities at different Web services when it finds account IDs that are the same.
Google is rolling out these changes on Thursday in English only. Social search results should become more common in the coming week. As before, users will need to be signed in to their Google Accounts to have a social experience.