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Social Relevancy – The Future of Contextual Search?

Posted: July 19th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Social Media | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

ReadWriteWeb has a good article on the upcoming battle for dominance in search between Google and social upstarts Facebook. For most of us Google’s position as the ‘go to’ site on the web for searching is an ongoing certainty, we even use the phrase ‘to Google’ to indicate that we’re doing a search. However there are two fronts on which industry commentators are concerned that the search giant’s dominance may start to be challenged – the first is real time search, and the second is social relevancy.

Twitter is the golden child of real-time search at the moment, with the bite-sized information posting rapidly lending itself to a global network of immediacy (and the usual increases in spam). Something posted on Twitter in the last few minutes is generally more relevant to a time based event than anything posted elsewhere on the web in the past, or in the next hour. Facebook has attempted to challenge Twitter’s fast rising star with it’s own interface re-tooling to use status updates in the same way, but status is ultimately a personal statement, whereas Twitter has left it very much to the user to decide what their Tweets are about. This search paradigm shift is ongoing, and will continue for a while.

Social relevancy is a much more concerning attack for Google. The basic principle is that when you want information you would normally trust your friends and contacts more than a random stranger on the web. Trust is a critical web commodity, one that is slow to lend and hard to build. Want to know the cool places to go out in your neighbourhood? Then you ask your friends and peers. Want to know how stars are formed? You ask Google. ReadWriteWeb express this as:

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| Increasing
| Relevancy
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Friends and Following
Taste Neighbours
Friends of Friends
Influencers
The Crowd (Aggregate)

Google sits firmly at the bottom of this hierarchy – processing the crowd and its network of links with complex rules to provide us with quick and (generall) accurate responses. Facebook and other social networks, from the first days of Six Degrees, sit with the top two positions. This positions are hard for Google to gain a foothold in as the time and effort necessary to get people on-board and to build up an accurate social graph are large, and although Google has the resources the question remains as to whether Google’s brand perception amongst people is sufficient to create a Facebook ‘killer’.

That’s not to mean Google isn’t trying to gain footholds into this market. They’ve supported open standards for creating semantic links describing relationships. They’ve bought out social networks of their own. They’ve even announced an advanced, in-browser UI (Google Wave) that lets you combine all your services in one place in real-time. Meanwhile Facebook still prevents Google and other search engines from spidering Facebook’s information and hence ascertaining a social graph of their own. Facebook want to own this space and won’t broker any deals that don’t help them reach this goal.

This is an interesting transition and it’s still hard to say who will win. Google ousted the search incumbents under 10 years ago, and there’s nothing to stop them being ousted in turn. Interesting times lie ahead for search and for us in the world of networked services.