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Social search gets bigger, and Instapaper’s founder Marco Arment starts ‘The Magazine’

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Internet search engines are tapping into the brains of your friends — well, more or less. You’ll soon be hearing a lot about what’s called “social search.” For instance, when you do a Google search, hits from your Gmail show up in the results. Google is now expanding that system. Over at rival Bing, the Microsoft search engine, they’re doing something more interesting. Do a search for info about, say, athlete’s foot and Bing will also check what friends on Facebook are saying about fungus infection. There are good and bad implications here.

“Positive implications are what we’ve seen all along,” says Anita Ramasastry, a law professor at the University of Washington who follows these kinds of issues. “Things are faster, and sometimes the company thinks the things for you before you’ve even thought of them. So that’s great. The cons are, I think, just the giant unknown. When the dots are connected across different kinds of services and platforms, we just don’t know what that means in terms of what a company knows about us.”

Then, there’s the problem of context. You really want that vicious comment tossed onto Facebook last year to show up in your friend’s serious search results?

“The part that’s the most troubling about all of this is that people don’t have an easy way in the moment to say ‘stop it'” says Joseph Turow, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School of communications. And, you really don’t know what aspects of your privacy are being held and dealt with behind the screen. So, you may find something showing up that you really never thought would show up on someone’s search engine.”

I tried out social search on Bing by linking it to my Facebook account and then searching the words “Obama Romney Debate.” In addition to the regular news links, Bing returned a list of my Facebook friends who have all publicly declared for Romney — not one for Obama, apparently. 

At a time when magazines are having such trouble making money in an increasingly digital world, Marco Arment’s doing something a little crazy. The former lead developer at Tumblr and creator of Instapaper is starting a new magazine, available for $2 each from iTunes. He’ll pay writers, but no fancy graphics, and he’s giving it…how long to turn a profit?

“I basically said if doesn’t succeed in two months,” says Arment, “I’ll shut it down. I’ll abandon it. I think some people would question why anyone would launch a magaine in 2012. I’m doing this with a full-time staff of one, and I’m having support from writers — some of them are professionals, some arent. “

Arment’s not using advertising in this new magazine (now just available on the easy-to-charge iOS platform). He also says that his model is different from most magazines, which are dropping huge budgets on interactive sections for tablets and phones. Arment’s strategy is to keep things simple.

“The articles aren’t necessarily all about technology,” says the developer, whose podcasts and blogging already draws an impressive monthly audience. “It could be articles about coffee, or baseball, or personal stories where tech played a small role. It’s not a magazine for geeks, but it’s not all geeky topics.” 

Oh, what is it called, you ask? The Magazine.

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