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Google Expands Search Party

A new service will expand its reach in the growing social search sector.

Fresh off last week's drubbing in comparative earnings reports, a new offering by


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aims to raise the heat even higher on




Late Monday, Google announced a new service that enables users to customize the search function on their own Web sites. Users will now be able to decide which sites to include in search queries executed from their own sites. And users will be able to search the Web in a more tailored fashion, in line with their specific tastes and those of like-minded people.

The service redoubles Google's efforts in the burgeoning social search sector, where the company has been relatively weak, given its dominance in other aspects of search. In May, Google introduced a host of new social search products, including Google Co-op -- which uses social recommendations in the search process.

But pioneering Internet start-ups such as


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have focused on social search for much longer, and the domain is also one of the last bastions of dominance for Google rival Yahoo!, which entered the market through its acquisition of start-up last December.

While Internet giant

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also made forays into social search through its A9 search engine, it's Yahoo! that has the most at stake now that Google is showing that it is serious about social search.

Yahoo! had been leading Google with a popular form of social search based on "tagging" -- the flagging of content by a user that would be of interest to others. Whereas Google tended to dump users into an amorphous sea of Web sites, Yahoo! users could take advantage of prior searches by other users with similar interests.

Along with being an attractive stand-alone feature, the capability also meshed nicely with Yahoo!'s other strengths, such as its enormous and active community of users.

But Google is now charging hard into a market in which Yahoo! has high hopes. In a conference call held on Oct. 17 after the company reported third-quarter earnings, Yahoo! CEO Terry Semel said that social media and video would be among a handful of high priorities for Yahoo!

Leadership in social search is a key advantage in Yahoo!'s strategy of dominating the Web's multimedia presence. Flickr, a photo-sharing site that Yahoo! acquired in 2005, relies on input from users to sort content and has been very well received. Yahoo! also will find it imperative to take advantage of its considerable strengths in the video space, especially in light of Google's acquisition of the video-sharing site


earlier this month.

Some analysts say Google's social search technology will prove superior to Yahoo!'s tagging approach. "What they are creating is an order of magnitude beyond what Yahoo! currently has," says Trip Chowdhry, an analyst at Global Equities Research. "Technology becomes a very meaningful differentiator in search, which tends to be a winner-takes-all market."

Amazon, meanwhile, no longer remains a top contender in social search. The company recently announced that it would dismantle much of its A9 search engine. Its efforts in video have also stumbled. Unbox, a video download service it introduced in the third quarter, has been poorly received and riddled with technical glitches.