These search changes are significant, though. People have been trying to do social search since at least 2003 (when MySpace started). I know because we got approached by all kinds of social search companies that were salivating for our data, hoping to create a social search engine that could unseat Google. Obviously, none of those companies have been successful. But the general insight and instinct is probably right. That's one of the many reasons Google is so interested in social -- Google is reinventing itself now, before someone else comes along and out-innovates them in their primary business (search).
Facebook's web or "thing" search is not so hot. Twitter's is pretty horrible. But what both companies do, to some degree, is replace "search" with questions. In other words, instead of doing a search for information on Facebook or Twitter, I might just use the resource of my friends' brains and ask them a question. For example, last week on my way to Yosemite, I asked my Twitter friends, "Where can I find Hmong food in Fresno?" I got a better answer than Yelp gave me. (Mainly because the answer was there isn't a lot of Hmong food in restaurants in Fresno! People suggested I find a Hmong family to cook me some food!)
I'm sure you've found yourself asking your friends for advice on social networks, and that's the first step in the process of social networks becoming competitors to Google's primary search business. People believe that social networks like Facebook may one day launch a web search and directly compete with Google, but they ignore the more subtle way in which social networks already compete. Whenever you ask your friends for advice on Facebook, you may be performing one less web search on Google. If Google can "automate" that process of asking your friends for advice via advanced "social" web search, they'll circumvent the "ask my friends search" that could slowly diminish searches happening on Google. A web search that tries to let your friends give you answers without bothering your friends makes sense because even when asking people directly, you don't always get the clearest answers, your friends aren't always online, and some people just don't have the time to answer questions at the moment you need the answers.
Even more important, right now, I think, is that Google is taking yet another step to virtually grab web content producers by the shoulders and shake them with a "Wake up, dummy! If you put your content on Google+ or associate your content with the Google Authors program, you are going to get traffic!" This is not something Google's competitors can really do in such a direct fashion. Putting your public content on Google+ makes it "evergreen" -- something people will always find via search -- and that is likely to attract content creators to Google+ even if those creators don't consider Google+ their primary network yet. As G+ and Google search fills up with more and more data / content of interest, it will gradually attract more & more people to use this this thing called Google+. It's a slow, tectonic shift sort of strategy to eat into the competitive social network space, but it's one of Google's unique advantages and they seem to be executing on it rather well so far.
To learn about the specifics of the changes Google's made today, read the blog post here: http://bit.ly/AbYe5J Attached is the video "commercial" for it. Take a look at one of the first times Google mentioned entering into "social search" back in 2009: http://bit.ly/zzM3d0
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