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Searching Together

By - June 04, 2008

It happens – the phenomenon of similar ideas all hatching at the same time. The latest seems to be synchronous web experiences. I’ve heard about three or four of them in the past few weeks, the latest being Microsoft’s Search Together. From a page explaining the research project:

Search, of course, has become ubiquitous for enabling users to find Web content, but existing search engines have been designed for use by an individual. Search interfaces don’t support collaborative search. Collaborating on search generally means one person at a keyboard while another makes suggestions, or two people using instant messaging or a phone while each is viewing a Web browser. It can work, but it’s not optimal.

While using SearchTogether, though, users can collaborate locally or at different locations, working in tandem or at different times.

Cool idea, but you have to use all Windows and MSFT stuff (Messenger, Live ID, etc) to make it work.

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11 thoughts on “Searching Together

  1. nmw says:

    OMG these people need to get a *CLUE*! :O

    Like “rolling out” cold coffee is not exactly *cutting edge* (in case there is *ANYONE* who is wondering what I am talking about, I suggest you “look up” digg.com)

    How about these rocket scientists and Ph.D.s just start opening their eyes and ears?!?

    http://battellemedia.com/archives/004426.php#comment_131098

  2. Free Traffic says:

    Searching Together is a cool idea but it
    need more robust and faster flatform to
    collaborate simultineously.

    I think Microsoft will use MS Passport
    and anyone can join even they used other emails and apps.

    Still, it needs to be tested for
    practicality.

  3. JG says:

    nmw: If I understand it correctly, there is a big conceptual difference between two or three people intentionally searching together, on perhaps a very deep, complex topic, and a massive collective of random strangers randomly voting for whatever kooky URL happens to momentarily satisfy their ADHD (digg). If you focus on user information needs, you wind up with, both conceptually as well as practically, very different types of information retrieval systems. What these people are doing is fundamentally very different from digg.

  4. MariaDavey says:

    Searching Together will get better as time goes on……….technology is just catching up with this type of search

  5. nmw says:

    JG,

    this may depend on how you view digg.

    I actually took part in a project that was a predecessor of digg (it was bought by a major news publisher during the “crash” of 2001). So for me (and for many others — e.g. slashdot) digg was not all that *altogether new*. Indeed: that is the point: I do not see digg as a “universal” site (there was an interview between Kara Swisher and Jay Adelson a while back that brought up this topic and I commented on it: http://kara.allthingsd.com/20080408/diggs-jay-adelson-speaks )

    In other words — in my view, the millions of people participating at digg.com are actually already somewhat focused on a particular perspective — so they are in that sense my “millions of friends” offering *personally tailored* guidance.

    I realize this is “stretching it” a little, but I do think it is the direction that most targeted sites are headed (for example, I wouldn’t be surprised if pizza.com went down such a path — much like pizza.de has already been doing for years).

    I do *not* think that something like this could be developed into a peronalized search tool (I simply think that it is not *possible* — or even *desirable* to have results that are “tailor made” [like the "king's new clothes"]) — and I also think such personalized services such as iGoolge are equally ridiculous (and these “pseudo-results” are primarily created to get people to divulge more personal details and thereby optimize the *advertising* [more than the results]).

  6. JG says:

    In other words — in my view, the millions of people participating at digg.com are actually already somewhat focused on a particular perspective

    This is the key distinction here. There is a difference between “perspective” and “information need”.

    You and I might share very similar perspectives. We might have similar political affiliations, similar hobbies, similar views on life, similar purchasing patterns, etc. But when I sit down to do a search, it is by far no guarantee that my information need this very moment exactly matches your information need on any or all of your previous searches.

    It is therefore a very different type of system that gets built when you are gearing the results/data toward *perspective* similarity, as opposed to jointly working on a shared information need.

    So you are completely correct when you say that a system like this will not be built into a personalized search tool. Because that’s exactly the point!

    The point of this research isn’t to show the same results, over and over again, to people with similar interests, which is something that Digg does. It is to show different results to people with the same information need.

    It is the anti-Digg, and it is a fascinating, rich potential new area.

  7. nmw says:

    I’m trying to understand the reasoning, JG, because I too find it intriguing — does this mean that someone searching for information about cancer would be “guided” by other people who are also searching for information about cancer?

    Personally, I would rather be guided by people who understand something about cancer (for example: “oncologists.md”, or perhaps “topical” specialists such as “urologists.md”, “dermatologists.md”, etc.).

    At digg, such “understanding” stems from a common enthusiasm for particular topics. As such particular enthusiasm becomes more and more generalized, it becomes more and more like that “least common denominator” kind of “gossip news” we might expect to find at sites like yahoo.com, myspace.com or similar generalized or “one-size fits-all” websites such as google.com.

  8. JG says:

    Here’s the most basic form of the idea, nmw, in its most basic implementation.

    (1) You and I intentionally get together to search for information on some topic. This is not some ethereal, wisdom-of-crowd, hippy dippy algorithm-is-god anonymous collaboration. This is you and I, explicitly announcing to the system that we are working together.

    (2) One of us enters a search query

    (3) When the results come back, they don’t all come back to one computer. Results #1, 3, 5, 7, 9, etc. show up in your SERP list, and results #2, 4, 6, 8, 10, etc. show up in mine.

    (4) We then both comb through our respective lists, to find the information that we both collectively need. The moment you find something, it shows up in my pane, even though you were the one that marked it. And vice versa, when I mark something.

    That’s it. You and I have now collaboratively participated on a search.

    Now, I’m not saying that this approach above is the best approach to designing a collaborative system. There is a growing body of literature with other, better techniques. But it does at least illustrate the difference between collab search and digg. Digg really doesn’t work like that. At all.

  9. nmw says:

    Yes, the collaborative user news discovery site I participated in (ShortNews, which was bought up into oblivion by Stern) used a combination of criteria — so not only explicit ratings, but also page loads (and I think also some other criteria which can’t remember). I have also repeatedly suggested page loads as a significant factor (and AFAIK Google and other search engines also track click-throughs [though I'm not sure they do so *all the time*]).

    The method of splitting potential results among a pool of users to review is indeed intriguing — but as I said before, I would prefer *subject experts* to be doing such reviews rather than people who are searching for information. I do not see why I should prefer the opinions of people who know little about the issue that I am trying to find information about to the opinions of people who are knowledgeable in the field? If such tasks were split up among knowledgeable people that would seem to make alot more sense to me.

    But this does not even *scratch the surface* of such a system — like how would the system know which of our searches are a part of such a collaborative effort? Would we have to enter each search term into an information system? I mean: I might be willing to take part in such an experiment if it were a topic like “net neutrality”, but if it were something like “live jazz” would I want you to decide what I get to see?

    I do not see that this idea has even *reached* square 1, let alone trying to get past that stage.

  10. JG says:

    But this does not even *scratch the surface* of such a system — like how would the system know which of our searches are a part of such a collaborative effort?

    nmw, you’re overthinking this. Relax. It’s much simpler than you’re making it out to be. The system knows, because you tell it.

    For example, suppose you are playing Halo3 online with your friends. How does the system know that you’re with those friends, and not with other friends? Why don’t random people start popping up in the middle of the map? It knows, because you’ve opened up a session, and everyone has joined the session. You’ve explicitly announced to the Halo3 servers your intention to “collaborate” with your friends on this game. That’s why only your friends are in the map-level with you, and why other random people don’t suddenly appear out of nowhere. That’s how the system separates your group, from all the other groups out there.

    I trust that you see the parallel to collaboration in search.

  11. JG says:

    The method of splitting potential results among a pool of users to review is indeed intriguing — but as I said before, I would prefer *subject experts* to be doing such reviews rather than people who are searching for information.

    Let’s suppose you and your significant other are going on vacation next month. You are searching for things to do in the 4 different cities that you will be visiting.

    WHO is the subject expert that you’re going to ask, the person that knows all 4 cities, AND knows what kind of things you like doing, i.e. knows what you both like, what one of you likes and the other doesn’t, and vice versa? No one. Except the two of you. That is the whole reason you and your partner are collaborating, explicitly together, on a search! It’s because you’re crafting out a unique pathway, for the two of you, for your vacation.

    That isn’t to say you can’t rely on the reviews, opinions, ratings of others. The back-end search engine can still make use of all that generic rating stuff.

    But the fundamental difference is that, when it comes down to what you ultimately want out of your search, only you and your partner know what that is. There is probably going to be almost no one else in the world that will be going from your hometown, visiting these four cities, traveling between the same specific dates, constrained by your same budget, with your same set of overlapping and non-overlapping likes and dislikes, hopes, allergies, desires, etc.

    That is why you would explicitly collaborate with your partner, rather than with some “digg”-based random set of strangers.

    I do not see why I should prefer the opinions of people who know little about the issue that I am trying to find information about to the opinions of people who are knowledgeable in the field?

    Exactamundo! And the digg approach is the one that prefers the opinions of people who know little about what you and your partner are trying to find information about. You and your partner are your own knowledgeable experts! Only the two of you really know what you want.

    What I would suggest is that you read some of the work by these researchers, to get a better sense of what they’re talking about. I’ve only discussed but a small set of possibilities. There is more literature out there.