Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Like a moth to a flame, social search brings us ever closer to SkyNet

So, Google+ is now showing up on Google search results. While this is big news, it may not even be the biggest development in social search, which is continuing to evolve into all kinds of interesting directions.

My very first post here at Non-techie Talk was a review of two search apps for my Palm Pilot. As I mentioned in that article, a capable search engine is what supports storing information in the first place because, if you can retrieve the information you need, there's no point in storing it - the value of putting information in is being able to get it out. Search is a big deal.

That's what originally made Yahoo! a great internet destination. As a portal, it helped give the limitless expanse of the internet some shape, it helped us find information. But, it had pre-packaged what information was presented, and searching for exactly what you want was a secondary consideration. 

That's the opportunity Google recognized. Most people would go to a portal, scan what was on the menu, and then just order a la cart by searching for exactly what they were looking for. So, Google stripped out all the links to the usual suspects - you know, "news", "weather", "sports", etc...and said "here's your search field, enter what you want and we'll find it for you."

That "strip out process" works. After all, isn't Twitter, for all intents and purposes, essentially  just the Facebook status update stripped out?
Anyway, fast forward to present day. It's no secret that Facebook was looking to leverage its mine of personal information as a personalized web experience, to become as it were not just a web-within-the-web, but a web without Google. Nor is it a secret that many are concerned that this "walled garden" approach is not cool.

They built it...

Google's new development - including Google+ information in search results - appears to offer a social media "open field" of access to anyone. As Google+ grows and users actually increase their use of it for social interaction, we're going to see Google+ become an increasingly present data source in search results.

...but, will they come?

In order for this to take flight, people have to start using Google+ to interact socially. Until there is critical mass, it won't threaten Facebook. However, in order for people to start using it, at least Google had to do its part and build something to use. And Google+ does have some nifty functionality. If Google+ grew underground back in the early 2000s, it might have become the standard. However, it's trying to occupy a corner of a room dominated by the Facebook elephant.

The elephant is pretty big

Facebook still holds the advantage. It has the user base, almost a billion people, and can already offer right now what Google is trying to build - search results that integrates personal/social information with wider web information. Why can't a Facebook user do a search, within Facebook, that returns Facebook results as well as internet results using Bing? That would provide results, in one window, from both the walled garden within Facebook as well as the open field of the wider internet using Bing. Essentially the same results, and no Google.

Other options

Have you ever heard of Greplin? This is another twist on search. Sign up, set up all your various accounts (Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, Basecamp, LinkedIn...), and it will search all of them. Just not the open web.

Where are we going with this? 

Skynet, right?