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The three pillars of Social Search Engines

April 12, 2008 4 comments

Inspired by TechCrunch article listing multiple social search engines solutions I decided to check few of the services claimed to be (or categorized as) social search engines. I tried: Rollyo, Eureskster, RecommendBox , iPercisnsyght, and andunite. There were few other names (from this source) that were mistakenly categories as social search engines.

In my previous post I wrote about blog searching and Twingly, a company that leverage the community for building spam free search engine and improving search results. By the way this company is very high on The Search Race list. 

To my surprise I found that most of these solutions lack in the one or two key features of social search engines: building great content and expending the community. After examining each of these services and looking at their process, mainly in the later two pillars of social search engine: content, and community, I yet to see a social search engine that made it simple enough to attract large audience and build an eclectic content base. If I was missing a great existing solution, in this short quest, I’ll be happy to hear about. I’m looking for a Google quality like implementation in each of these pillars.

It is not enough to provide a simple way to upload one’s eclectic web links to the system, it is also important to provide a way to expend the content in the same social fashion. It is not enough to provide the option to  add friends or search in one’s contact list(not that I’m too excited about this method), it is also important to help a person to find new friends; expending his network and at the same time the search engine input base. 

Pillar I – The search

I’m not an expert in search algorithms, and it is not the goal of this post to comment about this part of SSE implementations yet it is assumed. I will say that today’s concept of search expended beyond finding a word or a phrase in text to words, and idioms spell check  (did you mean?), direction (map) and business basic info.

Pillar II – The content

There are multiple ways that SSE collect and refine its content

The interactive way:

  • Allow you to import your favorites
  • Allow you to submit new links and tags from the search web site
  • Allow you to submit new links and tags through a gadget on a web site or blog
  • Allow you to submit new links and tags using a button on your web browser
  • Allow users to add tags, comments and vote for search results

The offline (automated) way:

  • Crawling the web looking for fresh links in addition to the interactive way – there is an argument whether SSE should do that and I can see both point making sense- pro: allow for fresh content to support complete search experience, con: more is not always better and mainly when it looks and feel like spam.
  • Crawling the communality submitted content to find matches

Why stopping at the submitted content only?

If I may suggest use the community submitted content as a source for crawling kind of how Twingly does it. I would also ask the community permission to access any of their other Web2.0 services to find more content.

Services that I found doing it fine:

nsyght – no option for favorite import but allow you to get your links form delicious and few other sources, iPercis – I successfully imported my favorites, yet requires some usability improvements (select all in some palaces)

Services that I found doing it poorly:

Rollyo – failed to import my favorites (single folder)

RecommendBox –  no assistance or automated way to build recommendation

Pillar III – The Community

This was my biggest surprise I assumed that a social search engine will put his emphasize on the social aspect of the application. I found some cases where after registering to the site “I was left alone in the cold”. I had no way to expend my network.

There are multiple ways helping people to do grow their network.

From within:

  • Show a page with the current people logged-in to the web site and a view of everyone else.
  • Allow adding people as a friend or preferably as I wrote in here – use the Twitter “follow” model

New users:

  • Allow the user  to import her contact list
  • Allow the user to grab his friends from her other social services
  • Social crawling – look on other social services for leaders with many contact and lure them to sign in

Nobody has to use any of these automated options if they don’t want to to but at least they could add friends easily if they do.

Services that I found doing it fine:

The best one so far in this area is nsyght – they implemented most of the options listed above.

Services that I found doing it poorly:

RecommendBox  – there is no way to add friends from within. There is no automated way to add friends that are not currently using it.

Update 4/14/08 – my bad, sorry, there is a way in RecommandBox to load conatcts from online address books in the welcome page (after login in). Thank you Scott Rutherford for correcting me.

In Rollyo, and Eureskster there is only implicit notion of community but you can’t “see” it.

From my short inquiry on social search engines I  learned how wide is the range of different solutions that this term cover and I think that I found two promising services nsyght and iPercis.  iPercis is still in alpha and nsyght based on the TechCrunch post is on public beta so expect some hiccups along the way, yet both companies invested, in my opinion, in all the right element of Web 2.0 social search engine solution.

Probably  I will stay with Google and del.icio.us that I really  hope to see coming up with better search capabilities. What about you?

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