“You’ve always trusted your friends. Now when you search on Bing, your friends on Facebook help you decide.”
As described on Bing’s YouTube Channel:
Bing has connected with Facebook to make searching on Bing more social. Together, Bing and Facebook offer you better search results and a more personalized experience, all with the help of your Facebook friends. Your friends introduce you to new music, food, movies, and more. Now Bing helps you discover what they have “liked” and shared on the Web.
Bing isn’t the only search engine moving in the direction of personalized social search results. Google has been serving social search results for some time now.
And of course, social search isn’t the only way that search engines personalize results. User search history, and other personalizing search technologies aim to serve their users the results that are most relevant to them.
But are personalized results, including social search results better? Or as Distilled’s Hannah Smith ponders:
“Is it ethical for search results to be personalised in this way?”
What are the potential consequences when, “A squirrel dying in front of your house may be more relevant to your interests right now than people dying in Africa.” – Mark Zuckerberg
Do We Really Trust Our Friends?
While there are much loftier questions to be addressed about the ramifications of personalized search results, I’d like to examine the practical impact of social search in furthering the very goal for which search engines have decided to use these factors: providing a better experience for users.
But do my friends provide me with a “better” user experience? I’m not so sure.
While there are SOME subjects, for which SOME of my friends provide useful information, opinions, and analysis. There are MANY subjects, for which MANY of my friends don’t know what the hell they are talking about.
In fact, I have found myself doing more and more “facebook feed pruning” to weed out unwanted social noise.
While social search hasn’t yet completely polluted my search results, I have recently noticed a major increase in social search results. In fact, because monitoring un-personalized results has been important for our business, I find myself turning off personalized search results more and more frequently.
You can learn more about Google personalized search from their Personalized Search Review Guide.
How Is This Any Different From Other Algorithmic Results?
Which brings up another interesting point. How are personalized social results different from previous algorithmic results? Haven’t search engine results always been editorial curated to some degree based on popularity? Aren’t social results just a reflection of popularity with a vastly tinier data set?
It seems to me that we have long taken for granted that traditional organic search results are somehow “mathematically objective.” However, the truth is that search results have always had at least some popular editorial bias. Looking at social search from this perspective, it seems that social results are really no different except for the fact that their is much greater weight given to popularity signals from your social circle. Which is not only a much smaller data set, but as I said earlier, perhaps an unwanted data set.