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In the battle to conquer real-time search, Google has drawn a line in the sand. The search giant today went live with its Social Search feature, which adds relevant results from users' social graph. But one thing is noticeably absent from those results — Facebook content.

Because so much of Facebook's information is private, Google cannot access it. For a social network trying to plant its flag as the curator of personal content online, that could be a problem.

This week, Social Search moved from an opt-in Google Labs experiment to a default feature on Google.com for signed-in users. Now Google searchers will see results from their friends on the bottom of search pages. Content from Twitter, blogs and other social arenas will be culled. But the feature can only access Facebook public profile pages, which means that the majority of information shared on Facebook will still be siloed on Facebook.

Microsoft announced in the fall that it would start including Facebook member status updates in its real-time search results in 2010. But Facebook members still can't make their status updates available in the wider web. Google has also expressed an interest in adding Facebook status updates to its search results. But Facebook members have been cagey about sending more of their information to the open web.

Late last year, Facebook tried to shift its users toward sharing their personal information more freely, with privacy changes aimed at more sharing. Now when users click on the option to "share with everyone," their content is supposedly available to Google. But not in social search. 

Maureen Heymans, the technical lead for Social Search at Google, tells PCWorld that if Facebook lets its members make more profile content public, Google will consider adding it to Social Search query results. Comprehensiveness is important to Google and Social Search is an effort to improve the relevance of search results, so it makes sense that Google would include them.

But there's still the pesky issue of user preference. And so far, consumers aren't as willing to share their personal information as Facebook would like. For the social net, the content shared by its 350 million members worldwide is only as valuable as what it can be done with it.

The changes to the site's privacy settings this fall set off an avalanche of critiques that are still coming in. And considering how much information lies in Facebook profiles, consumers have not yet signed off on sharing that data.

If Google users like Social Search and get sad about their information being stuck behind the wall of Facebook, they may give help Facebook in its efforts to achieve wider social relevance. But more likely, they'll find services where they can share specific information publicly.

Meghan Keane

Published 29 January, 2010 by Meghan Keane

Based in New York, Meghan Keane is US Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter: @keanesian.

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Mark Fulton

I have been wondering about this issue as I am one of those who would like more exposure to my Facebook status updates and shared links.

I currently have my profile set to "share with everyone" but the public still has to login to Facebook to see anything... so I'm assuming that Google cannot see it either.

almost 7 years ago

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Lisa Duhamel

Good article.  The title is a bit misleading... "But the feature can only access Facebook public profile pages..." - I wouldn't say that's entirely without Facebook results... Fan Pages -> aka Public Profile Pages.  Contrary to popular social web belief, respecting personal privacy is still valued by many.

almost 7 years ago

Meghan Keane

Meghan Keane, US Editor at Econsultancy

Lisa, 

I'm not suggesting that Facebook should breach users' privacy settings to get access to their data. But the information that is available — mostly names and photos and Fan pages — is not the bulk of real-time data on Facebook. If Facebook can get people to share that information more, their contributions to the real-time stream will become infinitely more useful. But there are hurdles, which I was writing about. Thanks, Meghan

almost 7 years ago

Ed Stivala

Ed Stivala, Managing Director at n3w media

I guess a different take on this would be to ask a more fundamental question about search and whether integrating 'real time social search' into what effectively is a first generation search engine like Google is actually that smart a move to start with? I appreciate that from Twitters point of view it is, but that does not necessarily make it right.

One could argue that Google is good at cataloguing relatively static content. But when it comes to seeking information from our social graph perhaps we need to rethink what 'search' means and how it is executed. Perhaps search in social terms is more conversational and becomes more akin to crowd sourcing an answer from with your own trusted social graph. I would question if adding real time conversations actually does anything to enhance the user experience for the majority of Google search users.

Personally I am very pleased that Google can not access Facebook content. It seems clear to me that Facebook is a walled garden (do you remember them?) and there is a very real opportunity for them to implement a more valuable social search implementation within the walled garden. 

Will be interesting to see how this pans out. 

almost 7 years ago

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Hannah Trinity

I actually gave it a try, interesting but I'm glad it has to ask for my username and password. I also tried the hotmail gadget for iGoogle, I don't know but I'm not sure if it's secure because it didn't ask for my log-in details, it just opened. I think I will have to remove that. It' too risky despite the privacy settings etc. I'm just not that comfortable...

almost 7 years ago

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Don Gilbert

Great article, but if you want to be taken seriously, you should probably only spell "Gooogle" with 2 o's instead of 3.

almost 7 years ago

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tava tea

I don't know but I'm not sure if it's secure because it didn't ask for my log-in details, it just opened. I think I will have to remove that. It' too risky despite the privacy settings etc. I'm just not that comfortable...

over 6 years ago

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