Will Social Search Replace Google’s Algorithms?

I’ve been saying more months that the Web will soon get more socialized. Recently, WebProNews ran a story on this topic:

Finding true relevance in search results is becoming the new focus of users who are looking to the web for their information needs. For years, the algorithm has been the standard method that search engines have employed to determine relevance and deliver comprehensive results. Social search, however, could represent a change in search philosophy.

Joe Lewis believes social search is the panacea for curing the 1 in 5 searches that don’t turn up positive results for searchers. I’m not so sure. Social search, of course, has its benefits, but there is nothing that is 100% fail safe. For one thing, you can never be sure that end users are using the product correctly.

Lewis cites Search Engine Land as his source:

According to Jupiter, 41.2 percent of users report that general search results are often not directly relevant to queries, and 18 percent leave a search engine without having found the information they were seeking.

Well, I can’t argue with the respectability of the source, but I can argue against Lewis’s interpretation of these statistics.

Social search is about finding what is relevant through networking, but I don’t see how 100 out of 1,000 users can point me in the right direction when I am searching for information about the mating habits of seagulls. Am I to just go online to my favorite social networking or social bookmarking site and ask my buddies what they know about my favorite topic? Well, that’s not exactly how social search works.

Still, it’s all about the network. I see specialized networks developing. If you are interested in sea birds, there could be a search network devoted entirely to your topic. We’re still a short drive from that point, however. Today, we have Google’s and Yahoo’s algorithms plus a few sites that offer social tools that can be helpful.

Just because 1 in 5 searches don’t turn up positive results for the searchers doesn’t mean we should abandon the model for the “next big thing.” Maybe those 1 in 5 searches were for terms that aren’t indexed due to obscurity or low popularity. Maybe the searchers themselves didn’t put in the proper terms. If you’re interested in the mating habits of seagulls and you type in “seagulls mating,” you may not get what you want. There is a science to conducting a proper search.

No model is perfect. Social networking has its drawbacks too. For instance, if no one else is interested in the same thing that I’m interested in then I will play hell trying to find information on it. After all, we are all individuals and to suggest that the majority will lead every individual to paradise is, well, absurd. It could be that some things will never be found online because most of us just aren’t interested in those things. We are not talking about the Library of Alexandria, you know.

When it comes to search, there is no perfect model. Social search has benefits but it isn’t a panacea. Google wasn’t either but it grew to the massive King of the Prom that it is today. I think we can agree that the search of tomorrow will look nothing like the search of today but when it evolves it will likely evolve along natural lines and not through some forced effort of socialization.

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