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For those who like the idea of social search but not Google's approach to it, there is another way.
Google sparked a controversy when it announced in January that it would begin factoring Google+ content into search results. A mischievous group of engineers from Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace even created a "Don't Be Evil" browser plugin that strips the Google+ results out of Google results and attempts to restore them to their natural organic order. Google claims it is falling back on its own resources partly because Twitter chose not to renew its realtime search deal and Facebook also bars access to personal profiles and status updates.
Yet the competitive standoff between these Internet giants is subverting the whole ideal of social search, which is to enrich search results with recommendations, reviews, and other commentary from your social network, argues Martin-Luc Archambault, CEO of the social search startup Wajam.
"The problem is your friends are not on Google+," Archambault said. Google might eventually improve its social search, "but I don't believe they will ever have Facebook, and you need Facebook to make social search work in my opinion."
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The Wajam social search experience includes Google+ but also Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare (with LinkedIn integration under development). So far, Wajam has had to negotiate with the big boys because it functions as a social app, which you as an individual user authorize to access your network and the feeds from your contacts.
Wajam then allows you to search this information on wajam.com but also, and more importantly, by using a browser plugin that inserts Wajam results into the native results displayed on Google, Bing, and other sites such as Trip Advisor. For example, when I do a Google search on "Yammer," I get back a listing of posts about the company from my Twitter contacts in the page sidebar (where the ads would normally be displayed) and a listing of contacts who work at or have written about Yammer at the top of the page. On Trip Advisor, when I look at the listing for Fairmont Heritage Place, Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco, I get a Wajam banner inserted at the top of the page showing that someone from Foursquare has recommended Lori's Diner as a nearby eatery.
Wajam is able to deliver faster results from Twitter because of the more public nature of that service and the way its application programming interface works, Archambault said. That means when a new user signs up, Wajam often already has content for many of that user's contacts in its index. For Facebook, on the other hand, whenever a new user signs up Wajam has to import and index content from that individual's network, he said. Because of that and the potential of hitting API threshholds beyond which Facebook requires a commercial agreement, "we'll eventually have to sit down with Facebook, show them what we're doing, and kind of get their blessing," he said. He is optimistic that Facebook will be receptive because "I think we're a good example of how to do it right," he said.
Wajam is not the only alternative to Google's social search. Microsoft's Bing, which has ongoing deals with Twitter and Facebook to index their social feeds, is slowly adding more social content to its results. Another startup, Geplin, provides social search on its website but does not offer a plugin like Wajam's.
Follow David F. Carr on Twitter @davidfcarr. The BrainYard is @thebyard
Social media are generating tons of data, but that data only becomes truly valuable when examined in context. Attend the virtual Enterprise 2.0 event Social Analytics: The Bridge To Business Value, and learn how social analytics will provide the bridge to unlocking business value. It happens Feb. 16.