All posts tagged ‘search’

File Under: Social, Web Services

Google Social Search Adds Your Friends to Your Search Results

Google has added a new social-search tool to its experimental search options.

Google Social Search, which went live Monday afternoon, finds results from your social network, pulls a list of your contacts from sites like Twitter, FriendFeed, Picasa, Blogger, Google Reader and other social networks, as well as your Gmail contacts, to find results for search terms from people you know.

Facebook’s friend data isn’t shared publicly, so results from your Facebook friends won’t show up unless you’re also friends on other networks.

To enable the new experiment, head over to the Google Experimental Search page and add the new Social Search option. As with other experiments, you’ll need to be logged in to Google to see the social results.

Once the experiment is enabled, you’ll be able to search for something like “potato chips” with enhanced results. Along with the regular Google results showing top hits for the entire web, you’ll see a link to a write-up about potato chips from your friend’s food blog, as well. You might also see a friend’s tweet about potato chips, or a link to a Yelp review written by somebody you know where they talked about how good the potato chips are at the Lulu Petite sandwich shop.

While Google’s intro video (embedded below) shows search results from the social tool inline with other results (under the heading “Results from people in your social circle…”) that didn’t happen in our testing. To see the personalized results from our social graph we had to click the “Options” button and then filter the results by “social.”

As for the results, well, Social Search leaves a little to be desired, but the results depend heavily on how large your social circle is and how closely your interests match your friends. For example, a search for “Webmonkey” turned up a number of hits, since the past and present Webmonkey staff members are part of our social graph. However, two of us have been passing around a link to a (NSFW) McSweeney’s article about decorative gourds Tuesday morning, but a social search for “decorative gourds” returned nothing from our social graph. We seem to be alone on that one.

It’s important to note that Google Social Search is not a real-time search engine. The quality of results may suffer a little if you’re searching for things that your friends have only started posting about very recently.

The quality of results will also depend on how many services you’ve added to your Google Profile — the more social sites Google knows you hang out on, the more friends it has to draw on, and thus the more results you’ll see.

The exclusion of Facebook may seem like an egregious oversight, but it comes amidst a very public battle between Google and Facebook to become your hub on the social web. The recent push behind Google Profiles was the search company’s first major attempt to create a central place for you to store information about yourself and link to your profiles on other social networks. But Facebook is still the more popular place to build a profile, and Facebook struck a deal with Microsoft last week to let the Bing search engine index user activity on the site — a deal Google was left out of.

Compared to using the search features on social sites themselves, like Twitter and FriendFeed, Google’s Social Search comes in a distant second. But it does offer the advantage of finding everything in one place. It also acts as a very welcome filter. Try searching for “Where the Wild Things Are” on Twitter, and you’ll see thousands of tweets from people commenting about the movie or the book. Run the same search in Google Social Search, and you’ll just see what your friends — and the people they chat with publicly — are saying.

All the information that appears as part of Google Social Search is already available publicly on the web — with a bit of Google hacking you could find it yourself. But what’s social about that?

To see Social Search in action, check out this video from Google:

To enable Social Search, make sure you’re logged in to your Google account and head over to the Experimental Search page.

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File Under: Social, Web Services

Bing Is in Your Facebook, Indexing Your Status

Facebook’s Twitter envy is showing again; the site recently announced a deal with Microsoft that will see public Facebook statuses indexed by a search engine for the first time. Although users sticking with Facebook’s default privacy settings won’t be affected, the move clearly shows Facebook moving beyond its closed, walled-garden beginnings.

Twitter’s success has clearly shaped several of Facebook’s recent changes, including the move to real-time updates and the acquisition of FriendFeed, but this latest development — turning over Facebook’s walled data to a search engine — goes well beyond earlier moves.

Part of Facebook’s appeal for many is precisely its walled-garden aspect. Sharing information on Facebook is a much more private, limited experience than with public services like Twitter, where anyone, friend or otherwise can see what you post. But Facebook’s new deal with Bing, which comes close on the heals of Bing’s similar indexing plan for Twitter, will change that.

If the idea of your status messages finding their way into search engine indexes fills you with horror, there’s no need for alarm, only Facebook profiles set to “everyone” will be indexed. Since changing your privacy settings to “everyone” requires a trip to Settings -> Privacy Settings -> Profile, presumably only those that truly want their profiles public will be affected.

Facebook’s own terms of service also prevent outside applications from caching any user data, which means Bing’s indexing will likely be very ephemeral — don’t expect deep time-based searches or cached pages.

So if most users stick with the default privacy settings and Bing can’t cache the results, who does benefit from the new deal?

Earlier this year, Facebook announced “fan pages” for products and brands that wanted a presence on the site, but for whom a traditional account would not have worked. It’s precisely this segment of Facebook’s population that will likely be most excited about the new Bing search deal. Brands and celebrity users already heavily invested in a Facebook presence will see that presence now available to the world at large thanks to Bing’s indexing plan.

At the moment the Facebook integration is just an announcement, but if the end result is anything like the Twitter integration in Bing (which is already live), expect the focus to be on links and whatever the buzzwords of the moment happen to be.

How much value Facebook’s status updates will add to Bing’s search results remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure, Bing finally has some data Google doesn’t. Unlike Wednesday’s Bing/Twitter deal, which was quickly mirrored by a similar announcement from Google, thus far, Facebook and Google have shown each other no love.

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File Under: Software & Tools

OCR Tech Allows Google to Index Millions of Scanned Documents

GoogleScanned PDFs are a kind of darknet on a web — at best search engines see an image inside a PDF, but can’t parse out the actual text. But now that’s changed as Google recently announced that it will begin using OCR (optical character recognition) technology to index the text inside scanned PDF documents.

Although there’s no flashy new interface or anything tangibly different in Google’s search results page, the new technology means that the full text of the some 300 million PDF files in Google’s index will soon be converted to searchable text.

That’s quite a boost for your search results, though whether or not the PDFs show up in your searches depends a lot on what you search for. Google’s examples would seem to indicate that many of the these documents are very technical, like this guide to repairing aluminum wiring (follow the link and then click “view as HTML” to see what the results look like).

Lifehacker has a fairly novel way to put the new features to work for you — upload your scanned PDFs, tell Google about them with a link and then sit back and wait for your free OCR conversion.

Certainly there are faster ways of converting scanned documents and, given that most scanners ship with free OCR programs, we’re not sure how practical the idea is, but they get points for creativity.

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File Under: Software & Tools

Joongel Opens Search to Forgotten Sites

Ever want to search multiple sites at once and just blend all of their results together regardless of content or ranking or whatever?

Me neither. When I search, I want my results fast and I want them good. However, it didn’t stop me from trying out Joongel anyway.

Joongel lets you define what you are looking for, such as images, music, videos, etc… It then allows you to refine the search and then displays a floating tool bar above the search results with options to jump from site to site.

You may care more for search site conglomerations than I do, and if you do, Joongel might take you away. It’s a good looking site. It bridges the search sources together in a very web 2.0 way. The menus and buttons slide effortlessly across the screen. The buttons and icons are big, fluffy — I dare say, even cute.

To me, the questions and options get in the way of my search results — even if it is asking me to refine them to get what I want. Blame my short attention span, but I don’t usually go past the first page of search results than continue on to other sites, even if the results are easily accessible by tabs. There is one thing I really really like about Joongel.

The amount of sites it searches is intense. Sure, they’re all sites I’ve heard about and even tried once or twice. Several of them I even had accounts for from when I first tried out the service. Usually after starting up the account, I typically jump ship for whatever works for me.

The best thing about Joongel is the realization of other sites. The first page introduces a full page of sites I barely ever used. It reintroduced me to sites I’ve long forgot. My little dim bulb lit up bright when I ran across some image sites I’ve never heard of through a Creative Commons search. I usually go to Flickr, but Joongel had me clicking around to Dreamstime, Everystockphoto and Morguefile just to compare the results.

I had no specific goal in mind, but such is the nature of web surfing.

As a search aggregator, I’d say Joongel is about as good as you’re going to get, which isn’t saying much. I think Joongel’s best attribute is as a way to discover new sites. Every web page these days has a search box, Joongel allows you to surf the results.

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File Under: Web Basics

Future of Search Won’t Be Incremental

A cyborg searches GoogleVoice input? Direct brain link? What does the future of search hold? If it’s to be created by someone other than Google, it sure won’t be much like today’s search. The future of search is unlikely to be incremental. It will be a radical shift from what we’re used to.

Miguel Carrasco oulined how Microsoft can beat Google using the social graph. Carrasco says that by combining what Live Search knows about our recent activity on social networks, it can provide better results. The examples show a way that search needs to improve: context.

The argument goes that armed with knowledge of our recent activity, a search engine can provide more appropriate results for our current frame of reference. If I’ve been planning a trip to Miami, to borrow Carrasco’s example, a search for night clubs should not return generic results. I should see Miami night clubs, especially those recommended by my friends.

It’s a nice vision, but it’s not likely to be enough for Live Search, or any search player, to take over Google. The approach, while important to the future of search, is too incremental. It has the vestiges of today’s search technology.

Personalization isn’t only coming, it’s here. Sign in to your Google account and you can activate it. Prepare to be underwhelmed. But even if it were as Carrasco describes, privacy concerns would stop personalized search from being adopted until the benefits were undeniable. It would take a radical shift.

When Google came along, it provided something that had never been seen before: good search results. Unlike all the other search engines, Google’s top few slots had what we were looking for. And it provided them fast.

It was a much easier time to make big changes. Someone has to make us realize that Google’s results are as antiquated as Yahoo and Excite were in the late 90s. A change in interface might be the most likely innovation. A search engine that takes voice input, understands what you say, and provides clear results still feels far away. That might be the sort of non-incremental change necessary.

A new version of Ask.com launched today. Among its features is the ability to reply to questions. Well, Ask has always been big on natural language searches. Though these results are better than ol’ Jeeves provided years ago, Google has also had answers to question searches for some time.

The most likely to create the way we search in the future is Google itself. It has the flexibility to create incremental advances and test them out on millions of people. The future of search is a problem they’re thinking about. I just hope they don’t find a way to put ads inside my cyborg eye.

[Photo by Linus Bohman]

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