We ask how to best present social annotations on search results, and attempt to
find an answer through mixed-method eye-tracking and interview experiments. Current
practice is anchored on the assumption that faces and names draw attention; the
same presentation format is used independently of the social connection strength
and the search query topic. The key findings of our experiments indicate room for
improvement. First, only certain social contacts are useful sources of information,
depending on the search topic. Second, faces lose their well-documented power to
draw attention when rendered small as part of a social search result annotation.
Third, and perhaps most surprisingly, social annotations go largely unnoticed by
users in general due to selective, structured visual parsing behaviors specific to
search result pages. We conclude by recommending improvements to the design and
content of social annotations to make them more noticeable and useful.