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