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Social Search Showdown: Google, Bing, & Blekko

In the past few weeks, both Bing and Google have announced changes to their social searching. With Blekko also having social searching via Facebook connect, I thought I'd compare how successful and useful I found each of the three, and explore the new announcements in a bit more depth. First though, for more searchers, social search may be a waste of time. If you do not have a large Facebook network of friends (or don't use Facebook), avoid Twitter, and have not built a social network, there is nothing to search. Or if you have a large Facebook or Twitter network of friends and family, but you want to search professional topics that are not of interest to those friends and family, the social search results will offer little but amusement, if you even see them.

But if you do have a social network and are interested in searching the "likes" of Facebook friends, Tweets, or posts in Google Reader, read on to see what's new and how to find the social results.

To use social searching (and see the recent changes) all the search engines require searchers to first connect to their social networks. So social searching requires logging in and let the search engine know about your social networks.

Google

First, Google announced that rather than having social results just showing up at the bottom, the results may show up higher and be mixed in with other results. Google Social has expanded to also to include shared links. Or as Google posts "if someone you're connected to has publicly shared a link, we may show that link in your results with a clear annotation (which is visible only to you, and only when you're signed in)" This is for Twitter "and other sites." Third, in Google Accounts, searchers can connect accounts privately for social search that will not show up in Google Profile. However, no Facebook Likes are included in the upgrade. To even see any social results (first launched in Oct. 2009), searchers must:

  1. Login to a Google Account
  2. Set up a Google Profile
  3. Link the profile to social accounts such as Twitter, Google Reader, Buzz, Orkut
Google Social Search Tools

Then after running a Google search, Social results may show up in the top ten hits (although none did for most of the ones I tried). Look for a result that on the last line has something like "From your Google Reader subscriptions" or a small picture of Twitter friend followed by "Friend shared this." If like me, you have trouble at first finding any social results, click the more search tools link in the left margin and choose the "Social" link under "All Results." That link only shows for logged in users, and it will only find results for users who have linked social content. So for the vast majority of users, no social results will be available. Only active users of Twitter, Google Reader, or the other connected networks will see such results.

It is a strange location. The Social search results are more like a database, but rather than being located up above with the other databases such as Images, Videos, or Books, it is with the search tools. That also means that it cannot be combined with other search tools like the date limits, Wonder Wheel, or Timeline.

So after finally finding some social search results at Google, I found the results to be mostly disappointing. This is in part due to my limited Twitter activity and strange Google Reader subscriptions, but I'm having difficulties trying to find reasons to use Google Social Search.

In particular, like many others, I am more interested in my Facebook social network more than the others. Since, as explained in more detail at SearchEngineLand, Google Social Search does not include Facebook "likes," I expect to rarely visit Google Social.

Overall grade: D

Bing

At Bing, the social search option is all about Facebook. Launched last October, Bing searchers who use the link under Sign in to "Connect to Facebook" could see a collection of sites and posts that were "liked' by Facebook friends at the bottom of the results page.
Facebook Sign in at Bing

Once connected to your Facebook account at Bing, results will highlight sites liked or shared by Facebook friends. Previously, these showed up at the bottom of Bing results. Like at Google, the recently announced change is that the social result from Facebook likes will now show up in their usual place within the search results instead of down at the bottom.

When a regular Bing result has been liked by a friend, that friend's picture will appear at the bottom of the result along with the person's name and a note that that person "liked this." The screenshot below gives an example. However, unlike at Google, there is no option to limit to just Facebook likes. No separate database is available, so to see any such results requires using Facebook Connect, having lots of friends, and having friends who "like" many web sites. Otherwise, searching Bing with Facebook Connect enable may only infrequently find results marked from your social network. Note that in Facebook, friends can "like" wall posts, photos, notes, and other interactions, but since most of these are not public, they will not show up in Bing search results.
Bing Social Result

Overall grade: C

Blekko

Blekko also uses Facebook Connect for its social search connection. Like Bing, Blekko only has Facebook likes in its social searching. To see any social results, click the sign in to Blekko and link with Facebook via Facebook Connect. Once connected to Facebook, Blekko handles Facebook likes differently from Bing. At Bing, an individual post or web page that has been liked will be tagged. Blekko tags the entire site.
Blekko Facebook Connect

For example, a search that finds any Wikipedia page will have a line at the bottom that says something like "Site liked by Ann, Bob, and 5 others" because those friends have liked at least one page at Wikipedia. This approach means that many more results will get tagged at Blekko as being liked. If the actual page has been like, the tag line just says "Liked by. . ." rather than "Site liked by. . . . "

In addition, Blekko lets a searcher limit to just Facebook Likes results. Typical of Blekko's slash tag approach, Facebook connected searchers can just add the /likes slash tag to just see results from sites that have been liked by friends. While no little faces show up in the results in the way Google and Bing have tagged results, just click on the "view" to see a pop-up frame with pictures and a complete list of friends who have liked the site. The pop-up even notes if they just liked the site or liked other pages on the site, and if so, which ones. 
Blekko Facebook Results

Overall Grade: B

Note that none of the three rate an A, and each have their problems. Whether social searching will become as big as some expect remains to be seen, but for now, those wanting to search their Facebook friends' likes, try Blekko first, and then Bing.

By Greg R. Notess. Dated Mar 8, 2011 in Bing | Blekko | Google


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