Wednesday, April 1, 2009

April 09 - Search gets social

Spend any time with people that work primarily in the digital media and you’ll find that their focus is extraordinarily narrow.

If it ain’t digital it ain’t worth spending time with, seems to be their modus operandi.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of doing it digital, but it’s not the solution to everything that the digerati would have us believe it to be.

Take the Yellow Pages for example. I’ve tried the online version, several times in fact, but I still prefer the book.

I’m happy leafing through the pages, scanning the ads, till I see a couple that meet my needs. As opposed to typing in a search term and having “recommendations” served up to me.

The digital divas can present as much evidence as they want about the amazing algorithms behind search recommendations, but if I wanted a recommendation I’d ask someone I trust. Not a computer.

A great case in point was when I needed to get a service done on my air conditioners during the heatwave that hit Melbourne a few months back.

Surprisingly we didn’t have a copy of the Yellow Pages book at work. So I had to resort to the online version. Which soon had me hotter under the collar than the 43-degree day I was suffering through.

Sensing my frustration, one of my colleagues asked if he could help.

I told him about my air conditioner problem and he promptly recommended a tradesman who had installed an air-con unit for him a couple of months earlier.

He told me the name. I typed it into to Google. A few minutes later I had a service call booked. Easy!

In essence, I had used what I’d call an analogue form of social media to solve my problem.

After all, social media is all about interaction and sharing with other people. Which is what I had just done. It’s just that I didn’t use a computer to do it. Although I did when it came to finding the phone number, obviously.

Which got me thinking about a way to combine social media style personal recommendations with a powerful search engine.

So I did a bit of a search using Twitter. Yes Twitter. It’s a great way to see what people are talking about.

And it seems I wasn’t the only person who had been thinking about a social media search engine combo. Apparently all the big guns in search are looking into it.

For something like this to succeed however, brands need to be comfortable with the fact that not everyone has something positive to say about them.

An interesting example of what I imagine will ultimately come to be termed social search, is which originated here in Australia.

This new search engine allows you to comment on the links that are returned in a search. I gave it a plug on my blog a little while back, which resulted in some interesting comments:

“I'm curious to see if it’s gonna catch on,” wrote Morgan Coudray. I suspect he’s not the only one.

Nathan Bush also commented. He thought, “Google's system of a quick 'yay' or 'nay' to be more enticing.” However he also acknowledged that social search was, “Definitely a new trend.”

And that well known blog commenter, Anonymous, had this to say; “Makes me think we may see a Facebook search tool. Something that lets you search the web and share your results etc with friends.”

Now there’s a great idea, if ever I saw one. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if a bunch of kids are sitting in their bedrooms working on it right now.

Which brings me back to my opening comment about digital not always being the answer.

A search engine that makes recommendations based on algorithms will never be able to make suggestions to you as good as those that your friends make.

But a search engine that enables human beings to comment or make recommendations is sure to be a success. At least until the next big thing comes along!

1 comment:

Gavin Heaton said...

This is the heart of what I am calling "social judgement". It's the next next thing ;)