One of the most oft-asked questions in search is “what’s next.” Yahoo hopes that My Web 2.0 is an answer – according to the folks who created it, My Web is an entirely new approach to relevance based on social inputs such as your group, your search history, and your own personally tagged webspace (which I’ve been calling the PersonalWeb for sometime).
Yahoo has dubbed the secret sauce driving relevance in My Web “MyRank,” and it seems to be Yahoo first truly focused effort to steal some of Google’s PageRank mojo.
But back to that “what’s next” question. In my upcoming book, which I swear will feel about a decade out of date by the time it finally f*cking gets here, I write this:
Search is no longer a stand-alone application, a useful but impersonal tool for finding something on a new medium called the world wide web. Increasingly, search is our mechanism for how we understand ourselves, our world, and our place within it. It’s how we navigate the one infinite resource that drives human culture: knowledge.
I think Yahoo’s been smoking the same stuff as me, because My Web 2.0 feels an awful lot like using search as the spade by which we turn the soil of knowledge. It’s clearly a major step along Yahoo’s calls its FUSE strategy – for Find Use Share and Expand.
So what is it? Well, I’m on my way to the Where 2.0 conference (already late) where I’m moderating a panel on local search, so I’ll let the NYT do the talking:
My Web 2.0, a new version of the company’s search engine that will harness the collective power of small groups of Web surfers to improve the quality of search results.
The service, which the company’s executives refer to as a “social search engine,” is based on a new page-ranking technology that Yahoo has named MyRank. Rather than relying on which pages are linked to most frequently on the Web – the so-called Page Rank technology pioneered by Google – MyRank organizes pages based on how closely search users are related to one another in their social network and on their reputation for turning up helpful information.
My Web 2.0 allows Web pages found useful by one member of a group to be instantly accessible to a network of trusted associates and to their network contacts as well. The service, Yahoo executives hope, will combat the growing problem of search-engine manipulation by using a collection of human eyes and minds to sort the wheat from the chaff.
Here’s Yahoo’s take, from the Yahoo Search Blog:
To address [the] limits of today’s search experience, we are releasing an early beta version of My Web 2.0 for a limited number of users. It is a new kind of search engine – a social search engine – that complements web search by enabling users to search the knowledge and expertise of their friends and community in addition to the web.
Yahoo is making My Web 2.0 available to Flickr users first, and that makes a lot of sense, as that community already has a lot of “web 2.0″ habits in place. But I expect it will roll out to all pretty quickly.
The key thing here, I think, is that this is a major test of the usefulness of social networks. So far, they’ve not really been very useful beyond popularity contests and getting laid, but perhaps when combined with knowledge and sharing, something new can happen. In essence, if this works right, you can search the knowledge of your friends, and leave your own clickstream as breadcrumbs for others to find. It’s Bush’s Memex, writ large, and it’s also a potentially robust development platform for all sorts of new kinds of applications. A key factor will be the ability to integrate other data repositories, and I know Yahoo is working on that (you can already integrate delicious and flickr, for example…)
But, on the other hand, it’s a pain in the ass to keep creating social networks, maintaining groups, tagging, sharing, etc. It’s a habit I’m not sure the masses will ever get into, at least in a way that is driven by pure selflessness. Jeff Weiner, SVP of search at Yahoo, knows this, and he speaks of incentives which will develop to encourage folks to tag and share. One such incentive is social standing – “I’m well known for being a connector of knowledge,” for example. Another is economic – “I connect knowledge, and there’s a business in that.” And there is a business in that, to be sure – it’s what blogs do, after all.
What is potentially exciting about all this is the ability for bottom up domain specific search to get built. Imagine a Globalspec built by a community of users who are all sharing their searches across My Web. Then imagine they realize what they’ve built, and decide to make a business of it. I am quite sure Yahoo will be right there, helping them figure that out, and folding those domain specific realms of knowledge into their broader index. Weiner says his roadmap for where My Web is going is one of the deepest ever created at Yahoo. I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes from here.