August 24, 2006 4:00 AM PDT

Internet search gets Web 2.0 style

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The big search engines are taking a cue from Dear Abby.

In an acknowledgement that some questions may be better answered by a human than a search engine algorithm, Yahoo, Microsoft and others are embracing so-called social search.

Social search generally refers to a Web site or service that relies on the participation of a community to come up with answers to specific questions or to provide links to Web sites or other resources of common interest.

Don't bet on social search usurping the algorithm, say experts. But it's likely social-search answers will provide a strong second option to mathematical results.

"If social search is not significantly better than Google search results, no one is going to use it."
--Jason Calcanis, general manager,

"Ultimately, it's likely that a combination of algorithmic search and the various types of social-search systems will fuse into a hybrid that will work really well for satisfying a wide variety of information needs," Search Engine Watch Executive Editor Chris Sherman concluded in a recent blog posting titled "What's the Big Deal With Social Search?"

No doubt, social search has its shortcomings. A site's network of users has to be big enough and include people who are sufficiently competent to maintain quality. Also, skeptics say, companies have toyed with the idea of social search for years, and most efforts have been a disappointment.

"I don't think (social search) is feasible," said Jason Calcanis, general manager of and the co-founder blog publisher Weblogs Inc., which was sold to AOL. "If social search is not significantly better than Google search results, no one is going to use it."

So why are some people now confident about the prospects for social search?

Advocates argue that people are now much more comfortable interacting on the Web. The say social search has its place, particularly in subjective arguments, like what's the best place to eat a steak in downtown Chicago.

And they say a new generation of Web 2.0 companies, whose business models revolve around information exchange, have gained acceptance, particularly among younger Web surfers, making social-search results more reliable.

Jeff Clavier, managing partner of SoftTech VC, said he made a personal investment in social search start-up Kaboodle, but wouldn't say how much. "There is only so much you can achieve with traditional algorithmic search," he said. Social search and collaborative sites "pre-filter the sources of information in a way that makes the relevance of the results higher. They apply a social layer to that."

Collaborating on answers
Social search has its roots in sites like the Open Directory Project, which is billed as "the most comprehensive human-review directory of the Web," and even Yahoo, which started out as a Web directory compiled by human editors.

The category encompasses collaborative directories, such as, as well as shared bookmarking sites, like Yahoo's MyWeb and Delicious. Also included in the category are sites where people tag content to make it easier to organize and find, like Yahoo's Flickr photo-sharing site. In addition, there are personalized search sites, like Eurekster, which offers customizeable search engines.

Question-and-answer sites are the most obvious type of social search. On such sites, anyone can post a question and receive answers back, either from experts in the field or any random Internet user motivated enough to respond. Popular sites are Yahoo Answers, Wondir and Answerbag.

Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang saw how successful Yahoo's Knowledge Search sites were when first launched in Korea and Taiwan and approved development and deployment of Yahoo Answers for the United States, where it launched in December 2005, according to Brad Horowitz, vice president of product strategy at Yahoo. "Yahoo Answers allows you to search for something that does not yet exist," he said.

Yahoo Answers is growing fast. The number of users of the free Yahoo Answers site rose from 9.1 million unique U.S. visitors in May to 14.4 million in July, according to comScore Networks.

See more CNET content tagged:
social search, personalized search, Web 2.0, search engine, Yahoo! Inc.


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Social Search
The point of social search is not to have more results than Google, nor to have "better" results, since better is a relative value. I would view the overall point of social search as the ability of content submitters to make their voices heard, and for the coentent consumer to gain a real value from the submitted content.

Take <a class="jive-link-external" href="," target="_newWindow">,</a> the ability to rate each submitted site on a (variable) set of criteria makes it easy to quickly see if the site is well liked, useful, or pretty, and let's you decide which result has the type of content you're looking for.
Posted by AngryEd (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Jean-Pierre Khoueiri talks about Social Search
Social search may not have reached the mainstream yet, but mak
no mistake, it will. It will take longer to catch on than other
movements such as blogging and search, but when it the moment
is right, social search will be an unstopable wave of a magnitude
never before seen.

By ConstantClick CEO-Jean-Pierre Khoueiri
Posted by (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Relevant Sources
The goal of social search should be to mimic real life - where we seek opinions from relevant people as we make important decisions. Relevance of the people providing inputs is the key factor - relevance could be based on the relationship/trust between the two parties, subject matter "expertise", etc. In order to get social search to work you must get people with relevant/high affinity relationships to interact. Social networks can do this but the network must focus on creating high affinity interactions. This is achieved by focusing the network on a specific demographic or interest. If you can create such a network, social search could be a reality. SchoolParentNet (<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>) is working to do this for the parent community.
Posted by anspn (25 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The masses will help "traditional" search
Social search will be highly valuble to end users -- not in place of traditional search, but as a way to tease out what is truly relevant. Somehow the big public search engines will need to converge on something in-between. We ( already combine keyword search with our social search for businesses who want better search and navigation.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
You might also want to check out Yedda (<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>), a recently launched social knowledge exchange service.

Yedda provides a new and innovative experience when it comes to sharing knowledge, by leveraging 2 key features:
- Question classification (associating a question with one or more topics) is done in free form (e.g. tagging), and is assisted with automatic text analysis.
- Questions asked on Yedda stay fresh for as long as the person who asked them wants. This is achieved using a unique active question broker that is attached to each question. The active broker continues to monitor the question and highlight it to relevant people, even after newer questions are posted, hence preventing the "bulletin board effect".

In addition, Yedda provides a smoother experience, by allowing questions and answers to be as long and as detailed as needed, and to include rich media when needed (e.g. formatting, links, images, videos, ...).

While quite new, there is already a vivid community around Yedda with fascinating questions and answers.
Posted by yanivg (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
A New Innovator in Social Search
I wanted to highlight that is rapidly innovating in the social search and discovery arena. Check out their latest blog post that lists many of their most recent innovations along social search:

<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>
Posted by mreining (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag - Search 2.0
Please try for free, no signup, no annoying formfilling - simply shout out your links.
Posted by sebacorp (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Search by API: Yimmiy
Yimmiy Search is a search engine searching the web in a mix of tradional and Web 2.0 style, making use of API's only. It searches the web simultaneously for various kinds of content (web, video, photos, new and blogs) from various providers (Yahoo, Live, LiveVideo, YouTube, Picasa, Google, Flickr etc), showing all in one list and using colors for the contenttypes.

The content provided by the traditional providers (yahoo, live, gigablast) is being ranked in the traditional way. The content provided by the Web 2.0 providers (like flickr, youtube, vimeo, truveo, blogmarks ea) is being ranked by their users. In this way, Yimmiy :) Search (<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>) can also be categorized as a Web 2.0 search engine. It uses just enough of AJAX and we are planning to expand people search with the new initiative of Google: Social Graph and searching the public people profiles of LinkedIn, YouTube and Flickr.

I hope you will take this under review and get back at me on how to improve it for the internet society.
Posted by indivp (1 comment )
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