Social data for search giants

I had a good conversation this afternoon with a friend who works at Google, and we touched on ideas about how the world of search and the world of social might collide.


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We agreed that no one’s going to beat the established players in search, and if/when an entrant does beat Google, it will be with a disruptive technology that uses a very different method of information discovery. Executives at Google have all read Innovator’s Dilemma and they are rightly concerned that real-time search and social search (and soon, geotagging) could represent this disruptive technology within search. The company is focused on how those movements might interact with search and have experimented with including real-time content in search results.

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I’ve got several ideas on how real-time and social data could affect search, in particular, the conversation reminded of an email chain I had contributed to this summer; I’ve pasted my bit below:

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Here’s a more complete description of the search idea I mentioned to you today.  Aside from some of the interesting strategies available to the big 3 search providers, I think Facebook has an opportunity to play an interesting role in search by offering a service adding social data to search results.

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Facebook could offer a Facebook Connect implementation specifically for search engines that allowed them to check URLs against a database of friend’s posted links.  This would allow the search engine to enhance relevancy. Think of it like this (forgive the quick/ugly mockup):  http://skitch.com/tylerwillis/bswcr/presentation2

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This could help Facebook move the needle on three strategic goals: increase engagement, increase ubiquity of graph availability (connect), and user growth.
\n- Offers a quick/easy way to gain influence in a new area of user’s habits, namely search.
\n- Easily the biggest Connect implementation to date if done with Bing, Yahoo, or Google. Huge legitimacy marker for Connect’s capabilities.
\n- It offers a large, visible step towards FB becoming ubiquitous, which would have a positive effect on new user signups.

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It would be great to make a launch partner of a top-notch engine (Bing or Google). Biggest problem would probably be building something that served results fast enough for Search Engines to actually use.  Only real question I can come up with is whether Facebook would be willing to be part of a search solution of companies they see as competitive (Google specifically) – IMO, the benefits laid out above outweigh the costs of propping up a future competitor’s current solution.

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Bottom line: John Borthwick sees an oncoming verticalization of search; my answer to Borthwick’s claim is the part of my argument I hold most tenatively, but, for most people, I believe that content isn’t interesting just because it is now, social, or nearby; our information discovery platforms must still apply good filtering and context to it’s content/results to meet a user’s needs. Anderson’s Vanishing Point Theory alone isn’t enough to build a universally interesting news application — one has to apply other metrics to judge it’s interest to a reader. Innovator’s Dilemma has shown us that the disruptive technology will get there soon enough (Individual services building upon their success with consumers who care a lot about now/social/nearby and getting better and better at relevance for the mass market), but it’s also shown that large organizations can adapt to disruptive technology by either buying a smaller organization that’s kept independent and encouraged to continue growth (Youtube, attempted with Twitter) or by pushing an corporate shift despite likely stiff internal/organizational resistance. Google failed to buy twitter, therefore it has to push forward with the latter option.

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Using the type of UI displayed in the rough mockup I included in the email (link), Google could add social (or realtime or location) data as a contextual meta-layer. I can tell that Google is already thinking of this meta-layer, because it’s exactly the layer that sidewiki is writing to (conversations occuring about information found at a website address). But, Google has misstepped with Sidewiki by trying to own the input. Our conversations are fractured, and occur all across the web, Google should instead focus on indexing and storing data from other services (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) and using that information to display that content as a meta-layer on top of search results and/or to reorder search results. Luckily for the goog, they’ve got some experience with indexing and displaying content from disparate locations.

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This idea is complimentary to my opinion about bit.ly being a great asset for a search engine to pickup.

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