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Time For Some Social Searching
If you keep tabs on the latest search engine news, you’ll no doubt realize that we are getting closer to a merging of search engine technology and social networking. While Google may have created the sizzle with its recent launch of Orkut along with rumors that it may one day roll it into its search engine, there is a company already making headway with social searching.
Although Eurekster may technically still be in Beta testing (launched in January of this year), there is no doubt that the offspring of SLI Systems and RealContacts is making major advancements in combining social networking with search engine technology.
Eurekster makes use of its own SearchMemory™ technology which remembers the sites a user finds useful and presents them higher in the results the next time they search. Then, Eurekster lets a user and their friends share their searches and sites, so when they do a “hotel” search, for example, they’ll see the hotel sites their friends also found useful, moved up in the results and marked with an icon.
I had an opportunity to discuss with Eurekster CEO, Grant Ryan the future of social searching and find out what Eurekster is doing to get a step ahead of Google, Yahoo and MSN.
[Andy Beal] Tell me about the search engine technology being developed by Eurekster?
[Grant Ryan] The Internet is a huge place - how do we know what is interesting out there? Word of mouth is the most common way for new ideas to spread and the “What’s Hot” function of Eurekster allows users to see what is going on with their contacts without seeing exactly who does what. This has already worked in interesting ways. There was an earthquake in my home town and someone immediately did a search for that to find out how big it was. Two people I know who were overseas at the time saw this in the “Recent Searches” area of Eurekster and rang home to check that everything was ok. It is a great way to share information with your contacts.
We’ve also shown how search engines can now also remember that you or your friends liked one particular search result over the thousands of others, and deliver it on top of the results for all future searches performed by your network of contacts.
[AB] What new developments in search do you see happening in the couple of years?
[GR] We think that personalization will be the main area of improvement. Search technology has evolved from computers deciding what is relevant (e.g. Infoseek, AltaVista), to paid editors deciding what is relevant (e.g. Yahoo, LookSmart), to webmasters deciding what is relevant through link analysis (e.g. Google, Teoma).
The next logical step is that users decide what is relevant based on their knowledge and experiences. Search engines that learn and adapt results based on your behavior, giving personalized results is the next big opportunity and challenge.
Another big opportunity is local search - this is a form of personalization - delivering search results based on one’s location. This is, to some extent, like merging the yellow pages with search. This has a lot of potential commercially, especially since there still are greater numbers of yellow page advertisers out there than search engine advertisers.
[GR] Word of mouth or social networking is the most commonly used method for filtering information in everyday life. We use it every day to get recommendations for doctors, lawyers, places to stay on holiday, and so on. As the quantity of information explodes, word of mouth information filtering will become even more important. It is inevitable that this natural social process will be used to filter information on the Internet and search engines are the logical place to start.
The reason that social networks are important for information filtering is that there are billions of people in the world with different views about what is important and interesting. One of the ways we choose people with whom to associate is based on the fact that we either enjoy something about their perspectives of the world or share similar views. In either case, this is a useful way to help work out what is likely to be more relevant to you.
[AB] Do you foresee a time when commercial search results (product/services) will be separated from informational search results (white papers/educational sites)?
[GR] Yes it may head that way. I can naturally see that there will be more tabs on search engines to allow users to focus only on products or just on educational information, etc. Most users simply want to type in a search query and have results appear — so I suspect they will continue to be mixed by default.
[AB] How do you see search engine technology impacting our use of portable technology such as PDAs and Cell phones?
[GR] I would be surprised if PDAs and Cell phones will ever be used as a primary source for searching given the requirement for small screen size. Mobile search engines of the future are likely to take into account your precise location when serving results as you are more likely to be looking for directions, local news, sport etc.
[AB] If search engine users gave up a little of their privacy and allowed their search habits to be monitored, would this allow the search engines to provide better, customized results?
[GR] Yes - if users want truly customized services then the provider has to know something about their preferences. The level of service you can get from a travel agent or investment advisor would be severely limited if you had to start from scratch every time you needed something. Most search engines assume that everyone typing in a term is looking for the same thing and give them exactly the same results!
[AB] Grant, tell us what Eurekster is doing to personalize the search experience?
[GR] At Eurekster we have developed a way to learn from your past search history and that of your contacts in a way to provide personalized and more relevant search results. There are strong incentives for search engines to keep their promises on privacy given there is more value in keeping a long term quality relationship, compared to the negative publicity and loss of customer trust.
[AB] How can Eurekster compete with Google or Yahoo?
[GR] I have been involved in the search business for over 6 years now and every year have read articles about how the search wars have been won (different companies over time e.g. AltaVista/Infoseek, Yahoo, Inktomi, Google). It is inevitable that companies will continue to come up with new technologies that offer consumers greater choice and new improvements. That is what we are doing at Eurekster, so have a play and tell us what you think — and what features you want us to add next.
[AB] Many thanks for your time and I look forward to seeing the continued success of Eurekster in the future.