Social search is only the beginning.
Last week we saw that Google has finally integrated Social Search into our normal results but search is really only the beginning.
It transpired quite quickly that google.me as a platform was a red herring but Google is now playing with a much larger one: its whole search infrastructure. As such we should be aiming for both Search and Discovery: we may currently search but do we really find and discover great new things or people?
Google finally seems to be focusing on what they do best: search; but we still don't have a very clear picture of where they are heading.
All about the profile?
Jeff Korhan indicates that the Google profile is making a comeback and will serve as "your home in regards to assembling your social graph for Google search". I was a big advocate of the profile being your central hub for your online world (at least as far as Google services were concerned) but Google really missed the boat on this one.
Did Google not think the world was ready for its social profiles and integrated social search 2 years ago, or was it just Google that wasn't ready? I'm inclined to believe it was the latter but you can't escape a nagging feeling that Google thought it was smarter than the average social media user and knew what the people really wanted.
Consequently, there was a masive opportunity lost with Reader and Buzz. The links between the two services and the tie-in to Gmail gave Google an excellent platform to work on and expand; combined with an effective profile page (which could have essentially served like your Facebook Wall) there would have been a solid basis for a social 'platform' even though Google were not building their own social network.
So, what of my other predictions?
When I suggested three ways Google could use search to take on Facebook I was working on the assumption that they were working on their oft rumoured social network. Now that we know this not to be the case do those ideas still stack up?
Including shares in search results just gives us explicit links - why not use the shares of our social circle, our own shares and our search history to give us recommended sites, blogs, people - all implicit. Placing recommended content within the normal search results would be too cluttered so, perhaps, it could be a separate option along with News, Shopping, Books etc.
Again, building on social search, there is the opportunity to expand the results returned by suggesting related items that may not have been triggered by the search terms entered. Relevance is a massive, upcoming area within the social sphere and you only have to look at what My6Sense are doing is this space to see the potential. With such a large content index at their disposal Google could clean up in respect of relevance which goes beyond the initial search results.
The real power for Google comes in linking services and utilising the data you generate so another huge lost opportunity in the shape of goo.gl. Better integration of the URL shortener would make it more usable - why not wrap urls with goo.gl as Twitter does with t.co? Just as with Twitter, this could be presented as a "security feature" (protecting us from dodgy redirects) whilst - at the same time - providing Google with a wealth of click-through data.
Even though Google is implementing social aspects within its existing services rather than a separate social network the potential still exists to be a major player in the social web. Sergey Brin commented that Google had "only touched one percent" of where social search can go - so much more can be achieved but they just need to know which road to take.
On the right path we can not only search but truly discover.
Image by Wootang01