Blog Post

Wow, Google Is Awfully Clueless About My Social Life

Google (s GOOG) has said (see my feature story) that its 2010 plan to break into the social web will consist of personalizing its products by encouraging people to expose and tie together information about who they’re connected to. To that end, today the company made its experimental social search feature a public beta rather than just an opt-in one. Now, when you search on while logged in, if it can find relevant pages published by people you’re connected to, it will show them at the bottom of the results page.

I was downright surprised to know how little Google knows (or is willing to admit it knows) about my connections. As part of the release today, the site opened up a personal dashboard page that shows each user’s “social circle.” According to my page, Google knows I am directly contacted to a grand total of 20 people (mostly, folks I know who are freelancers and therefore have good web presences or friends who have used Picasa to store pictures). Further, it tells me that I’m not showing up in any of those friends’ social search results, because “Google is not aware of any online content you have to share with your friends.”

Really!? I’m a pretty public person. I write for blogs using my real name. I update Twitter! Further, I use Gmail and have thousands of contacts there, and it would be easy to see which ones are important to me based on how frequently I email them.

What’s happening is that Google is being very cautious about clueing me in as to what it knows. The ways Google builds social circles is via your Google chat buddy list and by looking at accounts you’ve entered on your Google Profile. There’s no real incentive at the moment to fill out a Google profile, but I actually had. Apparently not well enough. My profile is associated with my Gmail address and has some basic info about my education and job, but I hadn’t noticed a place down near the bottom where you can add links to places to find yourself on the web. And Google fails to provide the familiar social web logo soup like you’d see when you configure an aggregation product like FriendFeed.

So I just went in now and added URLs and feeds for some of my web presences. Google tells me “it may take some time for the connections and content to update.” As for my Gmail contacts, it turns out I have to go in and tell Google explicitly that they are “friends” or “family” by adding them to a list.

To be sure, this is only a beta feature. Speaking at a conference I attended today about the semantic web, Johanna Wright, Google’s director of product management for search, said of the launch: “This is just at the beginning. You can expect a lot to come.” But maybe Google has overreacted to people’s fears of its creepiness. Either it needs to develop better and clearer incentives for people to share, or it needs to get a little more comfortable with using the implicit information I give it every day.

Related GigaOM Pro Research:

10 Responses to “Wow, Google Is Awfully Clueless About My Social Life”

  1. I tried it out. It was pretty darn good. But I’ve had a fully filled-out Google Profile for months now and I regularly participate in social networks. Even though it’s beta, Google found a bunch of relevant social media elements from within my social circles. The key is a complete Google Profile.

    The side effects of a Google Profile are good, too. First, it’s a great place to keep a list of all the social networks and services you’re using, from all over the web. If you sign up for something new, pop it into you Google Profile to remember it (and index it).

    Second, it improves Google searches for your own name. I now come up for at least 1/3 of the first page of search results for my own name. My Profile undoubtedly helps Google find me and improves my ranking.

  2. Liz, that’s good feedback. I think it’s better for Google to be cautious when starting out with social search. Even though you have a Twitter account and a Google account, we don’t always know the connection between those two. Adding a link to your Twitter page in your Google profile will definitely help, because it tells Google where to start looking to find the social circle of people you follow.

    • Matt, it doesn’t just seem to be a matter of Google being cautious.

      Even for those of us who have long-established Google profiles with many entries, the results seem haphazard. I have 29 people following me in Reader, plus over 600 of my Google Contacts marked as Family, Friends or Coworkers. Quite a few have Google Profiles and some of the profiles are even in the contacts listings. Yet my number of Direct Connections in the Social Circle listings has declined from 37 to 22 to 16 over the past week.

      It is unclear how often the Social Circle listings update but the documentation does say it is a batch process rather than online, and it appears to be fairly slow at that.

      The inconsistent results right now, just after rollout, reduce the credibility of the service.

      In the long term, there is a huge opportunity here for Google to present a unified view of all of the public activities on the web by any given person (with verified identity). This would be really helpful.

      Backtype, Disqus, Ubervu all try with comments but are quite inconsistent. Add in the FB Twitter and blog feeds and there’s a real need to find and present a real-time current view.

      Hopefully Google can provide this as part of the Social Search product.

  3. We’re betting on social search and its ability to tap your social graph at Assuming people will go out of their way to complete a google profile is very unlikely to result in mass market adoption and probably not the best approach.

  4. Google has said (see my feature story) that its 2010 plan to break into the social web will consist of personalizing its products by encouraging people to expose and tie together information about who they’re connected to.


  5. Liz, check out your channel on TuneIn - – to see media recommended by people you actually ARE paying attention to. Log in via Twitter OAuth and use our reader — this will allow you to search your reading history.