16 Aug 2012
Are you sick of hearing the word ‘social’ being used as a noun yet? The digital world is constantly being redefined in terms of social and here it is revolutionising another major part of everyday connected life; search and discovery.
Realising their star is on the wane, search engines are looking to social to bolster their offering with some interesting experiments in incorporating social data into traditional search. And perhaps more interestingly some clever startups are using social discovery as the basis for their service.
Social network activity has increased dramatically since search first became part of our daily online meanderings, meaning the social networks are a cache of golden information and search engines now have to find ways to incorporate social to reveal the best results.
User behavior has also changed since Google first revolutionised search. Over the last couple of years a dramatic shift has occurred in how people are finding websites, with an increasing number of people landing on them via social networks. It’s not uncommon for the amount of traffic arriving from Twitter and Facebook to eclipse Google.
So Google and Bing are looking for ways to include social discovery in their traditional search results to offer a more personalised and well rounded set of results beyond just a list of faceless websites.
Google are currently trialling incorporating the user’s Gmail inbox into its search results, in the hope that the information you’re looking for might already be lurking in your inbox. But it seems unlikely that this will be the key to social discovery and lead to ‘ the search engine of the future’ that they’re so keen to crack.
For those of you that treat your inbox like a spam graveyard, full of email ads and multitudes of Facebook and Twitter updates that are automatically pumped into your inbox and are usually ignored or forgotten about – a plethora of forgotten searchable content – this might be useful, but for most users it’s hard to see how this would be of much help.
Bing has incorporated social search into it’s traditional platform by displaying results in the form of people you know who, based on their Facebook posts, who might be able to provide answers for you. The problem is then you then have to go and approach the friend for information, which is probably far too real world for most people.
It’s obviously early days for social discovery with regards to the search giants, but the philosophy is exploding among nimble young web companies that are trying to figure out the best ways to help people find what they want, based not only on their own preferences, but the preferences of their social network.
With so many people sharing on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter, the networks have become a foundation on which discovery engines powered by actual user preferences can be built using algorithms.
Algorithmic discovery generates intelligent recommendations based on your social network, the broader social networks around you, and your own personal taste and preferences.
An algorithm could curate a list of your friends, and their friends and their friends, who are accurate predictors for what you like, and use their data to supply you with information and recommendations. This would take away the need for us to trawl blog posts, reviews, and general search results to discover the things we like beyond our own small circle of what we know.
Some major players in this area already are Netflix and Zite, which both use social discovery as the basis for their services.
Nearly three quarters of the movies watched on Netflix come from recommendations. The company believes their success with recommendations comes from not only continuous readapting to users’ preferences but also from appealing to all their moods, to deliver a more well-rounded offering. Although they’re bared by an antiquated law from incorporating Facebook into their recommendations, the company acknowledges that this would provide an even more powerful tool for social discovery, and are appealing to have the law revised.
Zite is a ‘personalised news service’ that uses your reading habits gleaned from Twitter, Google Reader and Read It Later to recommend a personalised list of news and magazine articles. It draws news articles from your social feeds and those of your friends and other Zite users to create a highly personalised social magazine.
With these two services gaining millions of followers in a relatively short time it seems there is a bright future in social discovery.