Google Using People Search As Stepping Stone in Social Strategy?

While Yahoo has integrated Facebook profiles and functionality directly into its search results, Google is taking a different path – yesterday, the company announced that it is now including snippets of Google Profiles on the search results pages for US name queries. Links to find profiles by the same name on MySpace, Facebook, Classmates, and LinkedIn are also included.

Is Google using its clout in search to try to unseat Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn? Google is definitely trying to gain a stronger foothold in people search by upselling Google Profiles, which it could use as a stepping stone toward further social ambitions.

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Google has many social products, including Gmail and Gmail Chat, Orkut, Google Friend Connect, and Google Profiles (which have historically been primarily used for identity within Google products, but are now very public). It also founded the OpenSocial Foundation, which manages the OpenSocial standard used by many social platforms around the world. However, Google has never been able to pull its social products together into a cohesive ecosystem.

Before the News Feed was around, Facebook got its start by providing users with profiles to manage their identities. By promoting Google Profiles very prominently on the first page of search results (ads above the first result and profile snippets and links below), Google has suddenly made Google Profiles much more important than they ever have been before (most people don’t even know they have one). Were Google to succeed in promoting Google Profiles substantially, it could use other assets like Gmail and Gmail Chat data to build its own social graph.

However, currently, Google is still showing Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, and other social profiles in its search results. For users who have established profile pages on these services, they will likely continue to be more prominent in SERPs than Google Profiles in the near future. However, there’s nothing to stop Google from adding more powerful people search functionality (or promoting Google Profiles even more) whenever it decides to – a move that could prove very challenging to Facebook and every social service that depends on Google for people search traffic.