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Think Tank

How Facebook Could Save Search Technology

This idea was suggested by Big Think Delphi Fellow and Microsoft researcher Meredith Ringel Morris.

What's the Big Idea?

In the next four years, we will create more information than in all the years of human history combined. Clearly, we must come up with a more effective system for filtering this flood of information, and search engines are currently pinning their hopes on the social graph.

Why Is It Groundbreaking?

In the early 2000s, Google unseated AltaVista, once the world's leading search engine, by counting links to and from a website as votes in favor of that site. But a decade later, this algorithm has been rendered obsolete by paid links, content farms, and other "optimization" techniques crafted to game the system. Put simply, search is broken, and everyone is grasping for a potential fix. 

The integration of search with social networking tools like Facebook and Twitter has emerged as the most promising solution, at least to date. Search upstart Blekko and Microsoft's Bing have incorporated Facebook likes into their search rankings, effectively adding human curation to the previously mechanistic algorithm. Meanwhile, Google, the world's leading search engine, has followed suit, unveiling its "+1" button as an alternate way of flagging quality content. There are even signs that Facebook could be positioning itself to launch a social search platform of its own. 

Why Should You Care?

Aside from creating a more pleasant and more effective search experience, these changes could, if successful, reshape the whole landscape of the web, disincentivizing spam sites and so-called "shallow" content site. Gaining more power to bring quality content to the fore, consumers will in turn be rewarded with better web experiences. And, as Vadim Lavrusik reports on Mashable, social media could be the shot in the arm to quality journalism that is needed in our Huffington Post-age. Highly aware of their internet personas, people will be more likely to share content that reflects well on them—serious journalism as opposed to gossip pieces—he argues.  

Still, it is businesses that will likely be most affected. A whole industry has sprung up around search engine optimization, and revamping of fundamental algorithms could undermine these companies' strategies. Businesses will need to be flexible in their approach to promoting content to consumers. 

In a perfect world, this would result in a marked increase in the quality of web content. Then again, this new approach will have its own biases and weaknesses; it would be unwise to underestimate entrepreneurs' ability to exploit them.

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