What is a Social Search?

Social search is an Internet search query with an engine that considers the user’s social network in the search. In some cases, only the social network is searched, returning relevant results from within the user’s circle of friends, and in others, the whole Internet is scoured, but the search engine tailors results with the user’s network in mind, considering linking within the social network as an important tool for determining relevance. A number of search engines offer a social option and there are also search engines specifically designed for this purpose.

The concept of the social search began arising in the early 2000s, when users increasingly relied on social networking sites for communication. As people put their lives online they also started using these sites for obtaining information, applying for jobs, and a wide variety of other tasks. A social search allows people to explore their networks in a variety of ways to look for information they may find useful or relevant.

Many of these search engines have a collaborative aspect, where users can add things to the search results with the goal of making results for friends on their networks more relevant. Services like social bookmarking sites, where people can save and share links, network very well with a social search. A person searching a network for information can see links other people in the network like or think are useful.

Social searches can return results from sites traditionally excluded from searches, such as microblogging and photosharing sites belonging to people on the user’s social network. A social search can be used to find friends, see the connections between people in a network, and conduct similar activities. People may also find it useful for identifying local events and activities; the social search can turn up announcements for events posted on social networking sites, for instance, when normally these would be left out of a conventional web search.

There are some privacy concerns with social searching. Some users prefer the option of being able to opt out, making their activities within a social network more opaque. Sometimes results on a social search surprise people, as they may not be aware of the extent of links within their social circle. Many social searches can, for instance, pull up all the profiles associated with a given person on various websites, including profiles people might prefer to keep private. In people with separate social circles, this can be a problem.