What Happens When You Merge Search Into Payments?

This is the main question asked internally at Seconds as we are working on a huge redesign of the mobile system.

Google has shown users are quite intent when searching for specific brands and products, that is why adwords is such a strong business.  The problem is the declining user experience.   The amount of time and number of clicks between the search and the purchase completion is growing.  Often times it can take numerous minutes and scores of clicks or finger swipes in order to complete a simple task such as making a quick payment.

Today, time is money.  A mere second, just a fraction of our life, is precious and valuable.   Anything that wastes it, in my opinion, is not worth doing.

Seconds was created to speed up the payment process, especially on the mobile device.  It removes all the excess layers and allows the essential functions to be completed as fast and as secure as possible.  Seconds was created to give time back to the customer.

That’s why we recently started looking at how to provide the best (read quickest) payment experience on the web.  We stumbled upon an interesting discovery, merging Search and Payments into a rich user experience.

Who do you want to pay?

Imagine being met with this statement… what do you do with it?  You could simply search a person, business or organization’s name and Seconds could find them based on our database or Facebook and other open graphs.  Same for twitter @username.  Using phone number, you could find them on Seconds or if not, invite them with quick text.  Same with email, either they are located or invited.

Once the recipient is located on Seconds, you simply enter the amount and make a payment to the merchant.  You also have the ability to see what they are offering (via keywords) and the prices associated.

Keywords offer the most intriguing possibilities of the future of search and payments. Imagine searching Pizza, Sandwich or Mariners on Seconds and being able to find something close by and quickly make a payment.

Already, Seconds allows merchant’s to create any number of keywords with dollar amounts associated.  Anytime a repeat customer sends the keyword to the merchant’s Seconds number via text message, a transaction instantly takes place.  Notice how the repeat experience can bypass what would at this point in the commercial relationship be considered a time waster.  An instant payment via text – it’s magic.

Yet the resulting data – keywords indexed and the inherent value associated – is the strongest future prospect.  Seconds indexes those keywords so indeed, they are also searchable.  This opens up a vibrant and rich search commerce experience void of the millions of worthless links Google provides us today.   The problem with Google is the deluge of information has muddled our user experience.  It takes me longer to search, find and make a purchase than I would like, which in the end frustrates me.

Its time Search was rebuilt with deeper purposes in mind, outside of indexing the entire world.  There’s just too much data and links out there to satisfy any user experience.

As Seconds grows and more merchants engage with the system – be it larger brands or smaller sole proprietors – there’s a massive opportunity to build out a more tightly focused commerce engine, one built with mobile at its core.   In this new engine, not only do merchants create an open avenue for people to pay them as easy and quickly as possible, but they now are able to be found via search on a system specifically built for payments and commerce.

Yes, some very interesting possibilities are available once payments and search merge as one.  Possibilities that, quite frankly, I have no idea what would look like right now.  We know this is only the beginning but the foundation being set down right now has very interesting future prospects.  Look for Seconds updated payment system to be released at the end of September, we believe you will be pleasantly surprised.

One Big Problem: The Worlds #1 Search Engine Is Not The Worlds #1 Social Network

Google just made a big, bold move and integrated Google+ profiles into their search results.  Yesterday, Google launches Personal Results,Profiles in Search, and People and Pages, new features of its core search product that mark the real beginning of Google’s social search era.

It looks something like this:

The big problem with this is that Google, the worlds best place to search and find information, is assuming my Google+ profile is the most relevant social profile about me and so it should be surfaced first.  Well, I will tell you this:  It’s not.   I rarely (if ever) update Google+ with links, updates and information.   LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter are better representations of me and my interests.

Sorry Google.  You are not my default social identity.

When Google+ launched months ago there was a strong reaction around the fact that we don’t need another social profile to keep updated.  There are already too many and this fact still remains true today.  Interestingly, I have seen less Google+ requests lately than I did last fall.

I bet this is the same for millions of other people.  I bet more people keep Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn updated and informed than their Google+ profile.

Am I correct?

@jnickhughes

Social Search Series Part IV: Will Quora Be More Valuable Than Google?

Social Search Series: This summer I am embarking on a journey through on the emerging web of Social Search. Traditionally known as the Questions & Answers industry, this category is currently being transformed by social and mobile technologies. No more asking a site questions and finding old answers.  I believe the future of the web is ingrained in the dynamic interdependence of social and informational networks. This is part IV of the series.  For background, check out the previous articles Part I here and  part IIand Part III here.

Googling may be the most popular way we currently search for information but mark my words, it will not be the primary way you find information in the future.  The previous articles in this series describe how the web has changed, grown exponentially, become more social and ultimately more difficult for traditional search engines to index.  That means you, as a user, are usually getting the wrong end of the search stick.

This article is about what keeps Google up shivering at night – the future of search lies not in what you know, but in who you know.

The search environment is splintering and I am postulating the next generation of search will reside within your network of contacts.  I call it Social Search.  In my first article a graph was used to illustrate four quadrants separating the field of emerging social search startups.  In my third article I talked about the first quadrant, Location Relevance, and what happens when you combine social, location and.  It looks as if a few associated startups, LOCQL and Localmind, are positioned well to change the very way we interact and search locally.

Quadrant: Location Agnostic

The next subcategory in social search can be referred to as Location Agnostic.  Some social search applications do not integrate location-based technologies into their functionality, but more or less originate around specific topics and expert knowledge.  Although these applications are location agnostic, they still can be relevant to many users and possibly become large search companies.  Refer back to my original post for the entire list, but here I will cover two of the best positioned startups.

StackExchange

Originally designed for professional and enthusiast programmers, Stackoverflow has emerged as one of the leaders in the social search space.  The StackExchange Network encompasses an additional 57 social sites like cooking, photography, etc.  Each of these sites is uniquely focused on it’s specific topic, and is called a “StackExchange”.  Collectively they are the StackExchange Network and with nice growth numbers now see almost 15 million users each month.

Here’s how it works: After someone asks a question, members of the StackExchange community propose answers. Others vote on those answers. Very quickly, the answers with the most votes rise to the top. You don’t have to read through a lot of discussion to find the best answer.

The growth of StackExchange is just another proof point aimed directly to replace swimming through the vast sea of links on the web, most of which are content farms or spam.  Simply put, these new approaches help people find better information quicker.  The unique take on mining expert knowledge for user search and discovery is quite clearly the future of search.  It is what I have been referring to over the past few articles “the future of search lies within your network of contacts“.

According to co-founder/CEO Joel Spolsky, the old question and answer model became flawed.  “I sort of feel like the first generation of Q&A sites, Yahoo Answers, WikiAnswers, and those, ended up accidentally being used for entertainment purposes. If you look at Yahoo Answers, it’s being used as a chat for teenage girls. It’s not really being used to get answers.”

StackOverflow’s answer is to focus on experts“We only select verticals where we have a critical mass of a couple hundred experts in the domain. We’re only interested in the domains where there’s something to learn – a corpus of knowledge, there’s a canon of knowledge, and people sharing knowledge are called experts.”

So why do I believe the future of search lies in a networks like StackExchange?  When experts are willing to divulge their knowledge, a site is able to collect and organize it, and more and more people start to use and share the information – *bing* the picture starts to become clearer.

Interestingly, Spolsky might not fully agree with my vision just yet.  “Our expectation is for the most part, people like to type their questions into Google and they’re not going to go to a specific site that often.”  Maybe he just can’t imagine a world where you could start following these experts, ones who you can look upon to bring you specific knowledge in areas of personal interest? In that world you wouldn’t have to go to Google anymore.  And what if you could infuse your social contacts in a way that…

Quora

QuoraQuora, founded by former Facebook employees, aims to build THE go-to application for the world’s wisdom and knowledge.  The cool thing about Quora is not only can you search and vote answers up or down, you can follow well known individuals as they continue to add their knowledge to the site.  Quora is combining the best of questions, answers, social contacts and search in an effort to build out a rich knowledge platform rivaled by no one.

They are the new Silicon Valley darling, garnering much attention and valuations around $1 billion yet still remaining a fraction of the size of StackExchange. Thus far they have maintained their focus on the relatively smaller tech community and it’s unknown if they can uphold their quality of answers as they grow in quantity of questions.

I searched Quora on the secret to getting actual value out of Quora, and as if on cue, here is an answer from Mircea Goia, a Web developer and web consultant (image above:

The value of Quora, as I see it, is that it connects you directly with the experts, experts which can give you elaborate answers on specific questions (the same would be on Stackoverflow.com for example if you are a programmer).

Where else could I find answers given by people like Yishan Wong, J.C. Hewitt, Mark Hughes, Marc Bodnick, Ken Miyamoto, Marc Andreessen, Ashton Kutcher, Adam D’Angelo, Max Levchin, Reed Hastings, Jonas M Luster and many other experts?

You have to find topics you are interested in and discover the experts.

On Google you find results, yes, but you have to sift through them, sort them, decide if they are right or not for you (you have to validate – here on Quora others are validating an answer), which takes time. Many times what you find is not so in dept as you may want. And it’s not personal either.

The greatest thing about these new search services is the best results and answers are voted to the top by other knowledgeable users, providing a much better user experience when observing results.  No more 10 links to a page.  No more SEO crap, where you see the first 10 results yet know they are there because someone knew how to “optimize” the site.  Superior optimization does not lead to superior information.

Although Quora currently attracts a relatively small user base, it might be to their advantage at this stage of the game.   As Yahoo answers became flooded with users, the the quality of information went way down, rendering the service meaningless to any serious web query.  If Quora can correctly harness the cornerstones of expert knowledge, social sharing and social discovery, as well as manage an appropriate growth curve becoming valuable to more and more web users, they have an opportunity to challenge the traditional search incumbents.

The value in Quora seems to be in what most see as in its incredible potential.  Semil Shah, recently on his own Social Search kick as well, has put the future of Quora best:

When all of these Quora threads are tagged in context within topics and subtopics, it builds out the site’s ultimate secret weapon: Topic Ontology. The ontology built so far within Quora is staggering.  For many topics in traditional verticals, the site has already mapped out all the relevant topics and subtopics, tagged them against other relevant pages, and created an entire hidden architecture of related pages that are all built into its own system with little to no contamination. Think of these topics as plates on a planet, rubbing against one another and moving over time to form entire new land masses — this is how fundamentally groundbreaking Quora could be for the web.

As I noted last time, research has shown that subjective queries can be monetized at 5x – 10x higher than objective queries.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see where all this is going, Shah agrees: “advertisements that are targeted against specific Quora threads will know everyone who has subscribed to that thread, their explicit interests, and related questions. That alone on an ad-model basis could be worth billions of dollars.”  The problem incumbents face is these types of platforms are so different they are usually built from the ground up using a whole new infrastructure, not tacked onto an existing search tool.  I wonder if Google and Microsoft have asked “What’s The future of Search?” on Quora lately?

The question remains – What will happen to Google’s dominant search position as these new platforms grow and take shape?  If history repeats itself, Google will be moved aside as another platform takes over (or a multitude of platforms share space in a more equal search market).  Once dominant IBM shed it’s power position to Microsoft.  Aol, valued at one time around $160 billion, lost it’s early web dominance to Google.  Facebook has emerged and has a stranglehold on the social networking space with a very interesting future ahead of them.

What Shah and myself are trying to get people to understand is this: “At the same time, no matter what, behind the scenes, Quora is slowly learning about our interests (both explicit and implicit), they way we use language, and our intent through search, following, and voting, using all of this information to perhaps reorganize the web and lay a new foundation for years to come.”  Same could be said about Facebook.  These are interesting times to say the least.

Look for my next post in this Social Search Series, as I determine if long term information still has a search value on today’s real time web.

@jnickhughes

Social + Location + Real time + These 2 Startups = The Future of Search

Social Search Series: This summer I am embarking on a journey through on the emerging web of Social Search.  Traditionally known as the Questions & Answers industry, this category is currently being transformed by social and mobile technologies.  No more asking a site questions and finding old answers.  I believe the future of the web is ingrained in the dynamic interdependence of social and informational networks.  This is part III of the series.  For background, check out Part I and part II.

Social, although hot right now, is not the only technology transforming the web today.  Location-based social search applications are bridging the gap between our online and offline worlds – and in doing so creating a whole new way for people to find and use information.

This post dives into the new territory of Location Relevant Social Search.

We first determined the traditional question and answer model is now insufficient, since the system doesn’t know your exact location, who your friends are or have any contextual understanding of your query.   The resulting answers are typically of low quality and relevance proving a broken model.

Additionally, search technology needs renovating and although Google is currently King of the Search Land they still have a lot to do if they want to hold onto their throne.  Basically, the amount of information on the web is growing so quickly that even the major search engines are bringing back mostly meaningless results.

I am postulating the next generation of search will reside within your network of contacts, and I call it Social Search.  In my first article a graph was used to illustrate four quadrants separating the field of emerging social search startups.  The first quadrant revolves around Location Relevance and it looks as if a few associated startups are positioned well to change the very way we interact and search online.

First, a few tenets we can stand on when talking about Location based social search applications:

  • Most of the worlds information is generated, organized and stored by human beings
  • People generating information are always at a specific location found with exact coordinates
  • So naturally, generated information always has specific geographical data attached to it
  • Combining those data sets: Search + Social + Location + Context = Maximum Relevance

In a related post, Evan Britton noted “the goal of real time search engines is to inform the public of what is going on right now.  By adding location data, internet users can be specifically informed as to the happenings in a city.”  Indeed, real time search results are incomplete without geographical data included in the context.  Location relevance completes the equation to help provide users with the best possible results when searching for specific information.

Location based technologies are changing our lives in every way imaginable.  Take the emerging location tracking application Glympse for example.  Watching someone drive along a map on their way to meet you, being found when lost on a mountain side or viewing thousands of people moving throughout your city in real-time are just a few ways Glympse will change our lives.

Or think about a similar application Geoloqi, a service using persistent location tracking to trigger notifications tied to real-world places.  Maybe it’s a note you or a family member left for you at the grocery store or maybe it’s part of a set of geolocated data that you opt-into subscribing to as a layer because it was of interest to you.  Some use the app to let their co-workers know how quickly they are getting through traffic to arrive at work.  Make no mistake, location aware applications are already changing the way we interact on the web.

Quadrant: Location Relevance

So what happens when you combine social, searching and location?   Annotating results with specific geolocation data when a query is submitted is fundamental to providing users with the BEST answer possible.  According to Bing, over 50% of mobile device originated search queries are about a specific place.  Think how often you quickly grab your mobile device to search for something.  Exactly.  The search world needs to catch up to the intricacies of how we are using the web today.

You can find the entire list of emerging social search startups here, but I am highlighting two emerging startups innovating location-based search and are poised to be big players in the search space.

LOCQL

LOCQL, Seattle startup some would refer to as “Foursquare Meets Quora”, has smartly put together two basic premises; 1) everybody knows a little bit about something and 2) location specific information always make things more valuable.  Marry those together, involve some game mechanics and you have a living, breathing repository of location relevant information based on where you currently find yourself. Using social power, LOCQL finds the missing links between the user’s queries and the places in the local landscape for which they are searching. They are still in beta but anyone can use the application.

LOCQL Co-founder Robert Mao can see the future of search lies within humans; “The idea for LOCQL came from our life experiences, as International travelers we traveled to many different places, relocated our home’s several times in different countries. There are so many ‘best kept secrets’ only local people know about, those who’ve been there just know it. Unfortunately, without a service like LOCQL, you won’t be able to find it from the web, nor can you find it through search engines.”

A major problem with current search engines is the “objective vs subjective” issue, and the qualitative differences found between their results.  Through quantitative analysis, Mao found up to 60 percent of location intended searches are subjective, meaning relevance can vary a lot between two different users searching on the same subject. “Social search is basically harnessing collective intelligence by crowdsourcing the answer from real people, so by nature it better solves the queries which are subjective.”

With LOCQL, users search or submit on topics and questions – typically in relation to a specific location – and receive highly relevant, useful answers.  “Who has the best burger joint in Seattle?” searched on LOCQL would give you one or two specific answers left by other LOCQL users who actually know the answer.  The same searching on Google will send back hundreds of useless links, most gamed by SEO keywords.  Plus one for LOCQL.

LocalMind

Where LOCQL is building a repository of location based information, Localmind, co-founded by Lenny Rachitsky and Beau Haugh, is centered around a real-time social search platform.  It can be thought of as the power of omniscience at your fingertips — the ability to know what’s happening anywhere in the world, right now.

According to CEO Lenny Rachitsky, they are working on a somewhat obvious concept. “We’re living in the 21st century for god sakes; we have data on people’s locations, we have always-on devices in our pockets, we have all kinds of sensors in our devices and in our world. We know more about what’s happening across the country than we do at the restaurant we’re thinking about going to. We are putting all those pieces together and solving that problem.”

Localmind allows you to send questions to users checked-in anywhere around the world to help solve your basic needs and inquires -  like how crowded is the bar, how many girls at the club, how good is the food at the restaurant, how long is the line at the airport.  More interesting uses include people sending questions to Japan after the tsunami asking if there’s anything they can do to help, or people getting free concert tickets when asking about a concert venue, or saving a family a few hours of travel by finding out a certain hotel was closed.

It has been found that subjective queries can be monetized at 5x – 10x higher than objective queries.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see where all this is going.  Google and Microsoft, I hope you are listening.  The problem incumbents face is these types of platforms are so different they are usually built from the ground up using a whole new infrastructure, not tacked onto an existing search tool.

Lenny noted there are 4 core things they focus on: 1) Your preferences, 2) your friends preferences, 3) your current location, and 4) your exact date and time.  Combining those gives users much more relevant and useful information.  Interestingly, Google would have no clue how to answer those above searches and probably just shrugs its big shoulders if you try.  Alas, plus one for Localmind.

The much accomplished team of three launched Localmind at SXSW in March and have already shipped four major updates to the iPhone app.  Their Android app is in it’s final beta release and will be entering the marketplace in a few weeks, and they also have an open API (www.localmind.com/api) that allows anyone to built on top of their platform.  Amazingly, Rachitsky says 70% of searches are answered in 5 minutes and they just reached 20,000 users, both numbers are satisfactory to Rachitsky at this point.

With a newly raised angel round of funding and relocation plans to San Fransisco, Localmind looks like they are warming up to play some hardball.  And LOCQL, a relatively quiet startup still in their beta release, is very strong technically and has a promising future a head of them.  Indeed, it seems both are ready to play David to Google’s Goliath.  Now, where is that rock again?

Next time, I will determine if Location Agnostic applications are changing the way we are searching on the web.  Yes, I’m looking at you Quora.

The Future of Search: Why Humanoids Will Rein Over Androids

Social Search Series: This summer I am embarking on a journey through on the emerging web of Social Search.  Traditionally known as the Questions & Answers industry, this category is currently being transformed by social and mobile technologies.  No more asking a site questions and finding old answers.  I believe the future of the web is ingrained in the dynamic interdependence of social and informational networks.  This is part II of the series, you can find part I here.

In my last post I briefly covered how the nature of the web is rapidly shifting toward social.  I also noted the future of search does not look bright for Google, who seems to constantly struggle connecting social dots.  I call this new category (formerly known as Q&A) Social Search and here’s why I think it is emerging as the future of the web.

Semil Shah, in a recent post suggested Google is Asking the Wrong Question With Social.  He seems to agree with my stance:

Before the Internet, most “search” was conducted through offline directories and by the time-honored evolutionary tradition of asking questions. “Where would you recommend I stay on my trip to Hawaii?” “What dish did you order at that new restaurant in the hotel?” “Where can I get the best deal on that hotel?” Google has elegantly stripped down these queries and trained us to, instead, enter the following text in a search box: “Hawaii + hotel deal” or “Hawaii + restaurant + popular dish.”

Now, that might be how some geeks actually ask questions in real life, but this is not how we are wired to search. We are most accustomed to asking questions as an extension of our own curiosities.  And while Google keyword search is incredibly efficient, the content it points us to is unfortunately declining in quality. The bottom line is that although it’s never been easier to search online, it’s getting harder and harder to find exactly what we’re looking for because there are perverse incentives to not only create, but also promote, keyword-optimized content.

Eloquently put: traditional online search goes against our biological inclination of gathering information – asking questions.  Naturally, humans tend to search for information through asking other people questions because we intuitively know everyone is an expert at something.  And as hard as Google tries it cannot create an algorithm as intelligent as a human being, let alone harness the quality of knowledge curated from many different people and perspectives.

So what’s the point of social Q&A and why is it merging into the next form of search?

I would postulate the original point of asking questions – even dating back to prehistoric times – was actually search.  It was how humans searched for information before Google, PageRank and keywords were available.  Cavemen conducted searches when they asked others where they made their last killing for the same reason we, in the 21st century, type “pizza” into a Google search bar; to find out where to have dinner.  Because most humans are now constantly connected, it feels more natural to use social tools to find information.  Notice how often we send out messages on Facebook or twitter asking our friends  this or that, if they have eaten at a certain Pizzeria or seen the latest Transformers movie.  It is not a coincidence social questions are increasing at a rapid rate.

As I was talking to a CEO the other day he made an interesting analogy I think fits well in this discussion.  During the first internet wave (mid 90′s), it was fascinating how you could sit in a coffee shop in Seattle and somehow find information, communicate and do business with another person in a place like Tokyo.  Borders became irrelevant as the web layered on a communication system that spanned the globe.  Never before in human history had we experienced this phenomenon and it certainly was socially and economically transformational.  But today, do we really care about what is available to us in Tokyo?  More than what’s available in Seattle?  Do we want 1,000 different options displayed on 100 pages to requiring time and attention to sift through?  No, the pendulum seems to be swinging back the other way.  We care about what is going on down the street, in our social circle and in our immediate local surroundings.  We want to be shown what is MOST relevant to us at the moment (and not have to see the rest).

It seems the cycle in Search has followed the same trajectory.  Google broke through because it discovered the very best way to 1) index and organize the web and 2) bring us information matching specific keywords when we searched.  But it’s a different web now.  The problem is there’s just too much information on the web today.  Like, waaaaaaaaay too much.  The major player(s) are struggling to instantly sift out 99.999% of the information in the world so they can provide us the most relevant and useful .001% – our answer.  What they lack is intuition.

For example I live in Seattle and right now I am hungry for pizza, in fact New York Style Pizza, so I choose to do a quick search on Google “New York Style Pizza” to find an viable option.  Observing the image above, it is clear Google is lacking in the contextual department.  Lil’ Frankies and Big Al’s are both pizza joints in New York City!  Amazingly, nothing on the page has anything to do with pizza here in Seattle.  This is not good.  I’m pretty sure my friends on Facebook or even growing local social search platforms such as CrowdBeacon or LOCQL would provide me a New York style pizza option closer than 2,400 miles.  I am aware Google has made strides in localization, but it is not apparent when I quickly use their main search tool.  This simple query illustrates how broken search is at the moment.

It is becoming clear to me, as more  and more information gets created each day, how important our network of social contacts are in bringing us information. More specifically, those two phenomenons are inversely related – as the amount of information grows, the tighter and more important my social contacts become. Why? Because as the amount of information increases we need context and location to help determine relevance. Context can help determine if I am searching for a pizza place in New York or if I am looking for New York style pizza. Location helps define if I am indeed looking for a New York style pizza joint here in Seattle.

Another noteworthy contextual observation is the innate difference between certain search decisions, for instance searching for a clothing retailer versus searching for a restaurant. I would be fine buying a shirt from a distant retailer in New York City. Ordering pizza…? Not so much. Google’s Android DNA doesn’t seem to understand humanoid nuances at all. I guarantee a social search application (powered by my friends) would intuitively understand the contextual and location nuances within my searches.

Understandably, this is freaking Google out and forcing them to push socially awkward applications onto their users at an increasing pace. Unfortunately this is not how social works, you simply cannot rush things on the first date or you will never have the opportunity for a second one. Google+ looks to be their best social offering as of yet, but only time will tell if they have finally aligned the social dots.

It is now clear why Google purchased Aardvark, one of the social search companies I highlighted in my last post. Just read this brief overview and think of how it could help us search:

Aardvark is a way to get quick, quality answers to questions from your extended social network. You can ask questions via an instant message buddy or email. The questions are then farmed out to your contacts (and their contacts) based on what they say they have knowledge of. If you ask taste related questions about music, books, movies, restaurants, etc., they’ll ask people who tend to show similar tastes as you in their profile.

It will be interesting to see how (and if) Google integrates Aardvark to help navigate this new search territory. Regardless of the outcome, I do not think Google will loose its shirt anytime soon. They have a stranglehold on the overall search market and most realize there are many different channels in search. I agree with Semil,”This type of search, or social discovery, will become important, but it won’t dominate search—it’s just one channel, and different social networks exist for different parts of our lives.” 

This is just the beginning of an incredible change in how we will find and use information and I cannot wait to see what emerges. In five years (2016)  we will not be looking at a white screen with blinking cursor begging us to type a few short words into the search vault so it can pull thousand’s of links for us to plow through.

In my next post I will go in-depth on the first of the four quadrants of social search, an area I believe has yet to fully experience this massive technological revolution.

I Just Asked My Friend About the Future of The Web, and Here is What They Said

Social Search Series: This summer I am embarking on a journey through on the emerging web of Social Search.  Traditionally known as the Questions & Answers industry, this category is currently being transformed by social and mobile technologies.  No more asking a site questions and finding old answers.  I believe the future of the web is ingrained in the dynamic interdependence of social and informational networks.  This is part I of the series.

Traditional Question & Answer sites are old and antiquated.  You know the drill – go to a specific website, type a question into a search bar and a variety of indexed answers come back to you.  The answers vary in context, quality and relevancy.  This was fine in 2002 when the web was less mature, but the reality is with advancements in web technologies it simply does not work today.  The problem is these sites typically:

  • Don’t know your location

  • Don’t know who are your friends

  • Don’t understand the context of your query

  • Are typically of low quality and relevance

Answers tend to be more relevant and helpful when they include this information.  When the system lacks these inputs, the quality of answers remains very low and you are left with an inadequate solution .  In fact, so low in quality you might as well just pick up your phone and call a friend.

Enter a new category of applications emerging on the web.  Social search applications implicitly take into consideration your social network, your location, your demographics, previous search history and other key data sets to help provide you with the best answer possible at that time.  I will not refer to the Questions and Answers space anymore, since I think asking a question and waiting for an answer is quite limiting and the entire concept is antiquated.  I believe we are on the cusp of a new internet category where users leverage their social/local sphere to quickly find relevant information.  I am calling this space the “Social Search” category.  Note that currently I am not including Facebook – the largest social networking site – in this category.  This is a study of startups who are strictly focused on social searching technologies.

This space is heating up and I am starting to read more about emerging companies working to build out the next social/local search platform.  Traditional Q&A sites are starting to see the writing on the wall, with Answers.com just recently massively laying off employees and replacing their CEO and CTO.  In fact, I wrote about a few local Q&A startups a while back noting this space is a game changer on the web.

When evaluating this new space, Four categories/quadrants emerge to separate the players in social search.  I have diagrammed them based on their relation to the four categories.  (If you don’t see an application that might fit on here, please reach out to me)

Location Relevance

Locating a user when a query is submitted is fundamental to providing the BEST answer possible.  According to Bing, over 50% mobile device originated search queries are about a specific place.  Think about how often you need an answer and how often you quickly use your mobile device to find it.  Exactly.  Mobile search will define the next wave of the web.

LOCQL

LOCQL is a Seattle startup some refer to as “Foursquare Meets Quora”.  These guys smartly put together two basic premises; 1) everybody knows a little bit about something and 2) location specific information always make something more valuable.  Marry those together, involve some game mechanics and you have a living, breathing repository of location relevant information based upon where you currently find yourself.  They are still in beta but anyone can use the LOCQL application.

Others include:

CrowdBeacon

Loqly

Gootip

Hipster

Travellr

LocalUncle

Local Mind

Location Agnostic

Some social search applications do not integrate location technologies into their functionality.  These applications more or less originate around specific topics and knowledge bases, not so much around a specific location.   Although these applications are location agnostic, they still can be relevant to certain users and possibly large search companies.

Aardvark

Aardvark is a way to get quick, quality answers to questions from your extended social network. You can ask questions via an instant message buddy or email. The questions are then farmed out to your contacts (and their contacts) based on what they say they have knowledge of. If you ask taste related questions about music, books, movies, restaurants, etc., they’ll ask people who tend to show similar tastes as you in their profile.

Others include:

Formspring

StackOverflow

Quora

Yahoo Answers

Long Term Value

It is important to create a  repository of information so users have something to search, and if done correctly this can be a great competitive advantage – the largest collection of information generally provides the best and most accurate information to a user.  Most questions have a narrow answer and this information generally does not change much over time.

Quora

Quora, founded by former Facebook employees, is a continually improving collection of questions and answers created, edited, and organized by everyone who uses it.   They aim to build THE go to application for wisdom and knowledge.  The cool thing about Quora is you can follow well known people as they continue to add their knowledge to the site. Quora seems to be the emerging leader of these newly minted social Q&A sites.  Thus far they have maintained their focus on the relatively smaller web tech community of Silicon Valley.

Others include:

CrowdBeacon

Loqly

Gootip

Hipster

Travellr

LOCQL

LocalUncle

StackOverflow

Yahoo Answers

Real – Time Answers

Instant interaction technology (real time) has transformed the web from a static information repository to a live, interactive medium.  This single change gave birth to what we know today as the social web, including Facebook, Twitter and many other social interactive platforms.  Search technology is catching up as well, and when infused with social interaction things could get very interesting.  Understandably, this category is nascent.

LocalMind

Localmind allows you to send a question to any place in the world, and get an answer from someone at that location in real-time.  They connect you, temporarily and anonymously, to someone at the location you are interested in, allowing you to ask any question you want, and get an answer in real-time. You can find out how crowded it is at a bar, how long the line is at a club, or how many tables are open at the restaurant.

Others include:

Ask Around (Ask.com)

Aardvark

Formspring

Look for my next post as I investigate: what’s the point of Q&A anyway?  Why am I now calling it Social Search?