Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Google’s Approach to Social: It Wants to Find the One True You

For Google, social search hinges (somewhat ironically) on isolating people. The company attempts to figure out who a single user is by cross-checking friend maps across Google Chat and public connections on sites like Twitter, LinkedIn and Quora. Then it uses that understanding of a person to prioritize relevant information that was originated or shared by someone in their network.

The emphasis on identity aggregation is an interesting indicator of how Google approaches social as it rolls out further products on that front in the next few months.

Though I’d heard Director of Search Product Management Mike Cassidy describe Google’s approach to social search when the company started sprinkling it throughout search results last month, this particular angle was increasingly apparent at a panel on social signals in search where Cassidy spoke at the Search Marketing Expo in San Jose today.

“We actually do try to map one true person,” Cassidy said. “The more we can do to associate content to a person, the better,” he added, calling this “AuthorRank.”

Cassidy appeared with Microsoft’s Paul Yiu, principal group program manager for Bing Social. Both are currently conducting tests on social search within the U.S. that they said are going well and should expand elsewhere “soon.”

“We measure everything at Google, and the results are all we hoped for,” said Cassidy of click-throughs on the new social search features. Social, he said, is “a great signal and people are using and enjoying it.” (That’s in contrast to another search expert at Google who earlier this year called social “a tiny signal.”)

What would a social story be without some Google-Facebook awkwardness? Cassidy avoided mentioning Facebook even as he discussed aggregating the Web’s social signals. It turns out Google social search does not include Facebook data, even though its intent is to include all publicly crawlable social data. (Facebook fan pages do show up in normal Google search, but they are not given special social ranking.)

Cassidy maintained that the omission is not because of ongoing tension between the companies about personal data sharing. Rather, he said, it’s a “technical issue” that will be resolved soon.

Unlike Bing, which provides some social results (for instance, heavily tweeted links) for logged-out users, Google shows social search only for users who are logged in to its own network. Bing’s big social signal is Facebook, and it automatically detects Facebook users who are logged in. From what Yiu said, it sounds like Bing is trying to find authorities on certain topics on Twitter rather than analyze the social graph there, as Google does.

But Bing is also connecting the social dots between various versions of an entity. One interesting thing that Bing has started doing is associating a company’s latest official tweet with its name. So, for instance, if you search for Netflix on Bing right now, you’ll see a tweet from yesterday about Mardi Gras as part of the top entry about the company.

Also, though search engines are usually reticent to disclose specific factors in their algorithm, Liu said Bing has found a high correlation between quality tweets and tweets that contain links.