If ever there was a strong meme in search, it’s the impact of social: Everyone is talking about how Facebook and Twitter are threatening Google for what I’ve called the “oxygen” of the web: distribution of attention.
A little background. Google rose to prominence as the absolute winner in the Internet’s distribution game. The de facto interface for knowledge navigation, Google brought signal to the noise of Web 1.0: Sure, nearly everything worth publishing was now on the web, but how on earth could you find that ONE thing that mattered to your query, NOW?
A hundred billion plus dollar business ensued: we all now use Google to find that which we want to find on the web. In particular, Google is great at delivering authority on the web for those things that had already been published and ranked: In a way, Google has become the reference librarian of the web.
But…just searching a reference library is one thing. What about finding things people are talking about right now? And wouldn’t it be great if you could cross index that reference library with your social graph, so that people you trusted helped you go from query to decision?
Twitter and Facebook promise that next step in search. Let’s tease this out a bit.
We have different modes when we search. Sometimes we are looking for that perfect reference point – an article on how to train a dog, for example, or a how to guide on building a treehouse. But then we hit a critical inflection – we want to validate our reference material with a real live human connection. And Google can’t really do that. In short, we want to cross reference what we’ve learned with the experience of someone we trust.
Before the rise and ubiquity of social networks, the ability to do this was pretty serendipitous – sometimes in our reference search we found humans with whom we could connect and then learn (this happened to me in 1995 as I was searching online for my birth mother, but that’s another story).
But it’s happening more and more online now, thanks to our ability to use Twitter and Facebook to query our social graph. Through status updates or tweets, we can ask real people that which before we asked Google. And, by reading through the lifestreams of our network, we can discover that which we might never has asked, but nevertheless find interesting.
It’s late and I’m working way too many hours to do this line of thinking justice. But I will simply state it this way: Facebook and Twitter, you need to get better at mixing traditional web search with what you’ve already got. And Google/Microsoft, well, vicey versa. You need to get better at mixing social into your traditional web search.
Whoever does it best, wins.
Update: A new study on the interplay of search and social media can be found here.