Following Google’s widely discussed steps and recognizing the increasing importance of the ‘social internet’ in the modern search, at the end of February Yandex announced its intention to focus on developing social search services that would use content of all the most popular social networks to an equal extent. The advantages for its users that Yandex sees in this trend include better search results containing information from social networks, the possibility to read discussions of a particular event on one page and the chance to find an old friend without the necessity to register on all social networks first.
The most promising and popular project within the social internet search programme (Russian: ПСИ – поиск по социальному интернету) is people search, as Yandex gets more than a million people search queries every day. Given that nowadays practically every internet user has a profile on at least one social network, such profiles can be considered a convenient way to get in touch with the person – and thus a useful answer to a search query about them.
At the moment Yandex users already have a variety of people search options at their disposal. The homepage of people.yandex.ru offers you to find social profiles of people using a number of filters: for example, those who studied at the Moscow State University and worked at Yandex, or those who lived both in Vladivostok and Kaliningrad.
After clicking on one of these links the user will see the information about all the people who fall into the defined categories with links to their profiles on various social networks and the basic publicly available information provided on those profiles. The initially set filters can be deleted or modified in the search query window.
Having found the person they were looking for the user can then click on one of the links framing the picture to be directly transferred to the person’s profile on this or that social network. The feature that Yandex emphasized repeatedly is that the user does not have to be registered on this social network themselves in order to get access to the profile of the person they searched for.
Alternatively, by using the ‘expand’ option the user can see more detailed information on the search results. The format this expanded information is available in reminds of the Facebook timeline and usually contains the person’s education and employment details as well as their recent pictures.
A slightly different focus of search is offered by a similar option at the bottom of the same page that allows users to make a search using the same filters, but only on one social network. In our example, the results page will provide a list of all people registered on, for instance, Facebook who studied at MSU and worked for Yandex.
Another related service that is being beta tested at the moment is somewhat of an advanced search option allowing users to specify what city, age range, education and job titles they want Yandex to search for.
It is not only on the people.yandex.ru subdomain that users will be able to get social media search results. When searching for a person from the Yandex universal search page, the top search results will now include links to the person’s profiles on social networks as well. For instance, if you search for a certain Roman Ivanov the five top search results will be links to his profiles on My Circle (Russian: Мой круг), VKontakte (Russian: ВКонтакте), Facebook and My World (Russian: Мой мир).
A lot of users nowadays have profiles on more than one social network. If they link their profiles Yandex will group them together when providing search results. For Yandex to do so, the profiles should be related in one of the following ways:
- Profiles have reciprocal links to each other;
- Only one profile has a link to the other, but this link is confirmed, i.e. in order to post this link to one profile the user had to enter the password of the other.
The simplest way to let Yandex know what profiles belong to the same person is to use the service on social. yandex.ru. In this case the user will not need to create links on each of their profiles.
Apart from a reasonable amount of curiosity and predictions of steps that Yandex will take next, the frequent users’ reaction seems to have been mostly negative so far, with the most common points of criticism going along the following lines:
- A publicly available profile on a social network is just a common webpage. Having been crawling such pages for 15 years, Yandex cannot present the service under consideration as innovative;
- It would be much more useful for users if Yandex improved its far-from-perfect indexing instead of coming up with far less significant updates;
- This service violates anonymity of activity on social networks;
- Even if it is possible to prevent your profile from appearing among search results this almost certainly won’t be the default setting and if a user does not change it in good time their profile can be seen in search engine results against their will;
- This type of search, while not possessing any tangible advantages for common users, could be misused for the purposes of social engineering and crime;
- This type of search already displays certain imperfections. For example, a search for people who served at the army unit number 02151 (with zero in the beginning) returns a lot of results for people who served at the army unit number 2151 (without zero), which are completely different units;
- (predictably) Big Brother’s watching us (it should be mentioned here that Yandex will obviously show just the publicly available information from profiles on social networks).
Despite the above mentioned criticism and the uncertainty of future for this search, for now it is definitely, if nothing else, a fun service for users to play around with.