Friday, January 13, 2012

Brouhaha about social search in Google - Did Gizmodo miss the point?

As the amount of information on the Internet increases, it is not possible to keep up.  The ideal strategy to manage this information overload is to create filters that will increase the signal:noise ratio.  In addition the quality and usefulness of information is often related to the person creating or curating it.  Thus knowing who is the person/s behind the information can help appraise the information more critically.

Social search is a way to implement this. Thus you can for example when surfing the web, see what your Facebook friend thought of a particular article or post.  If you know this FB friend well enough, it gives you a special insight into how to appraise that article.  Here is a blog by the Bing team (almost a year back) about personalized search results based on FB "likes"

Recently Google announced that it will integrate their G+ information with Google Search.  The thought being that when you search for something, you can have the option of seeing posts and comments by people in your Google Plus circles show up in the search results.
This has raised a hue and cry re' Google contaminating the search results and possible anti-trust violations.

post on Gizmodo titled "Google just made Bing the best search engine" is encouraging people to move to Bing. I had written earlier about how a sensational headline like "Sitting longer can make your bum bigger" can cause a ripple in the blogosphere with not many stopping to dig deep.  The post on a respected website like Gizmodo would be expected to have a bit more of the technical detail and ideally more balanced.  While the post does mention that with one click you can toggle the personal searches on/off (Fig 1) it could have mentioned that with 4 clicks anyone can disable the default setting of showing/not showing the personal searches.  Thus if you are bothered by the personal search option, just turn it off and you never need to toggle on/off again. Also if you are not signed into Google account, you don't get the personal search option. So why write such a "sensational" article about this?  

Very easy user control to toggle on/off the personal search results.

4 clicks change default preference for personal search
I am all for letting the user make an informed decision.  All Google has done is give the user an additional option.  Is this is potentially useful option?  Let me give you an example.

I have a large circle of educators on Google+ that I have spent time creating.  If I search for an education topic on Google, I would LOVE the ability to have an option to filter the search using this tool.  When I search for "ePortfolio" I get 90 excellent useful personal search results.

Depending on the topic, this is a feature that is incredibly helpful.  Imagine you search for a medication e.g. Viox.  If the future, you could have in your circle people like Eric Topol or Steve Nissen or the Cleveland Clinic.  You can have a choice of seeing their opinions about Viox in the search results.  Why is that an option that we would not give to consumers?

I would hope that at some point we could have an option to include similar personal search filters from FB and Twitter and Yelp or any other similar application on all search engines.  Thus when searching for a movie or a restaurant, I would toggle on the FB filter and when searching on an education technology topic, I could toggle on my Google+ filter.  Till that happens, maybe one can just use Bing for FB filter.
An option is to set up Bing as default search on Firefox and use it to search for movies, and use Google as default search engine on Chrome and use it to search for another areas of interest.  Its easy enough to keep a couple of different browsers running.  It's all about choice and creating smart filters.

As we look at the future, an ability to create such "smart" personalized filters will help you improve the signal:noise ratio and be more efficient in your searches.

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