I wouldn't say that Google is broken. But after looking at concepts by Delver ( ) and Sightix, it has become clear to me how much better search can be--in theory--when it knows more about the person doing the searching, and when it knows about their social network.
Delver, a search engine that deciphers your social network, is still in private beta. Google is reportedly working on social search, but has yet to release it. According to Sightix, on May 1 it will deliver social search to Shin1, an Israeli social network.
When you search for something using the Sightix technology on a social network, it searches the content of everyone you are connected with, and ranks results gleaned from each user based on the strength of their connection to you. Ari Gottesmann, vice president of Sightix, gave me this example: Say you're searching for a nightclub. The clubs your friends talk about will get a higher relevance than your friends of friends. It's much more likely that this ranking will yield results that work for you than searching a general engine that doesn't give extra weight to your friends' recommendations.
The product also works as a people search engine of a sort. If there's a good result from someone way out in your extended network, this tool will help you connect with them.
The Sightix company, originally in the business intelligence business with customers such as Dun and Bradstreet, has given its social search product a rich and complex interface. I think it's overkill for the task at hand, but if users want to see how they're connected to the results they get, it could be fun to explore.
It's less likely that this technology will work when users are looking for something completely obscure to their networks, but I bet they would be surprised to find how much they can glean from their extended social circle with a tool such as this.
Sightix is building its search product to embed in social networks. It's not making a search destination site, which means its success hinges on embedding the technology within social networks themselves. Getting the Shin1 deal is a good first deal, and Gottesmann is working on getting the service embedded in the huge global social networks for the future.