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Google Taking Search Social

Google today unveiled a new project to give its flagship search engine a social makeover.

Social Search, an experiment underway at Google Labs, aims to add a dash of personalization to the results served up in the popular search engine by layering in the proliferating online content being produced by people's friends and acquaintances.

"Most people on the Web today make social connections and publish Web content in many different ways, including blogs, status updates and tweets," Maureen Heymans, the project's technical lead, and product manager Murali Viswanthan wrote in a blog post. "This translates to a public social Web of content that has special relevance to each person. Unfortunately, that information isn't always very easy to find in one simple place."

Google's answer is Social Search, which taps into the information from the public profiles people have created with Google, which include their connections across the social Web.

The new feature follows earlier effort by both Google and several other large Web players to tap into people's social connections to make the content they serve up more personal and relevant. Yahoo (NASDAQ: YHOO), for instance, has been talking loudly about its efforts to bring users' social connections into its signature products, such as search and e-mail.

So a search for a digital camera, for instance, would bring up the typical results all search engines serve up -- retail listings and popular review sites -- but the new feature creates a separate section at the bottom of the page showcasing content people's friends have posted on the subject on all the social sites they have included in their Google profile.

Similarly, a search for a restaurant could bring up a friend's review on Yelp, or a search for information about a foreign city might turn up the travel blog a friend had written about his experience there.

"With Social Search, Google finds relevant public content from your friends and contacts and highlights it for you at the bottom of your search results," Heymans and Viswanthan wrote.

Privacy concerns and layering in a social element

In a nod to the privacy concerns that often accompany such announcements, they noted Social Search only draws on content that is already freely available on the Web. But by plotting a graph of Google profile members' connections across Twitter, FriendFeed and other social sites, they hope to layer in a social element to what for many is the jump-off point to the Web: the search engine.

Heymans posted a video demonstrating the Social Search product, assuring users that they can edit their Google profile settings to ensure that certain content doesn't show up on other people's search results.

For Gmail users, Google will also include people's chat buddies and contacts in the social graph. Social Search results could also include the sites users subscribe to in Google Reader, the company's RSS product, which was also the recent recipient of a social upgrade.

Users must have a Google account and be logged in to use the Social Search feature.

Google is inviting users to sign up for Social Search at its Labs experiment site.