Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
October 14, 2010 9:59 AM

What You Tell A Search Box

There is no doubt that as the Internet evolves, so too must the search engines.

As someone who was there when the first search engines came online (in fact, I helped launch one of them), it's no surprise that we've evolved from basic search to search integrated with relevant advertising, to search beyond text (you can now search images, audio and video). It's also no surprise that search powers some of the biggest online platforms we have (from YouTube and Facebook to Twitter and Flickr). Without search, the Web isn't all that useful.

As the Web becomes more social, so too much the search engines.

As we move away from static web pages and indexed content to a world of shares, likes and following of the people we know and are connected to, it should come as no shock that search engines must begin to integrate this type of content into their indexing and results to stay relevant and useful. In the past little while, we've seen indications of what this looks like (Google now displays "real-time" results for searches that are pulling content from places like Twitter), etc... Just yesterday, Microsoft's Bing announced a partnership with Facebook to make their search results more "social." MSNBC posted a news item titled, Facebook and Bing team-up for social search, yesterday that explains this evolution in search engine results:

"Today, Facebook dips its social-media chocolate into Microsoft Bing's peanut butter, introducing a 'social search' engine where Facebook friends and their 'likes' are factored into search results. The end product is what it sounds like: If you search for movies and restaurants, some of the results represent what your friends have selected. If you search for people, those with more connections to you pop up first."

Be careful of social search.

If you've been playing along at home, you may be surprised to hear me say the words, "be careful" of anything that has to do with search engines and social media (considering what I do for a living and considering that those two areas are personal passions of mine), but yes... be careful. Searching for information is not the same as connecting to people.

We tell things to a search engine that we wouldn't even tell our families and closest friends.

Would I mind if everything I've done on Facebook were made public? No. Not all. Would I mind if every search I had ever done were made public. Yes. Very much so. While these recent announcements from Bing, Facebook, Google and Twitter are fairly innocuous (and I'm the last person to put on a tinfoil hat and dive into the ocean of conspiracy theory), stop to think about what the business behind this about. The idea here is simple: the more of the Web that is indexed, edited and aggregated for all consumers, the easier it is to use, and the more people use it. The company that figures out this magic formula wins. They get the traffic, usage, attention and engagement. It's in their best interest to make everything online findable and connectable (and this includes the content you are creating and/or requesting).

Here's a simple exercise:

Write down everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) you search for online in one week. Save it in a document. After that week, go and take a look at that list. Now ask yourself the question again: do you want all of this public?

It's the little big things.

Who cares if people know you like a local pizza joint, or that you recommend a certain coffee house? That's fine and that's the majority of searches, but dig a little deeper. Imagine you have just been diagnosed with MS. You haven't told your family or boss yet. You're looking for support, trying to figure stuff out. You definitely don't want the insurance companies to know just yet. Would you like that public? How about this: your child is acting up in school (in this instance, your kid is the bully). You start looking online for resources and information, would you like people to know that your kid is acting up? Take any addiction (drugs, alcohol, gambling, etc...), medical issue or any other personal issue (like the odd time you watch some adult content online), and keep asking yourself if you would like all of this made public?

It won't happen. We're not there.

True enough. We're not there with social search yet, and this probably won't happen (people will revolt!), but we do have to be vigilant. We do have to able to acknowledge that even these first strikes at figuring out what social search is and what it means is a step closer in the direction I outlined in the paragraph above, and further away from the point we were at a few moments ago when search was (fairly) anonymous and private.

It's exciting to get all excited about social search. It's a little scary too... isn't it?

By Mitch Joel