Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Rapid Evolution of Social Search...

When many of us think of social-networking sites and Web 2.0, our Pavlovian response is to immediately think of MySpace and Facebook. But there's been a rapid evolution of Web 2.0 services in the last year, and just posting a few pictures and changing your status message on Facebook is no longer adequate if you want to stay up to speed in the modern cyberworld.

The whole idea of Web 2.0 is to create a social network between you and your friends so that you can share content with each other. Facebook is, by far, the most entrenched and established of these sites, but it is quickly seeming like yesterday's news as the microblogging phenomenon known as Twitter has completely taken off - as demonstrated by Twitter's recent $80 million valuation.

Microblogging represents the next-wave of Web 2.0 technologies, and its heavy usage threatens supplanting older stalwarts like Digg and Reddit for sharing news stories, and for sharing bookmarked websites among one's "friends" as well.

But the latest and most significant recent trend in the Web 2.0 world has been the evolution of social-search and aggregation services. In plain English, social-aggregators like FriendFeed bring together all of the activity from your other assorted social-networking sites, and publish updates from one centralized place.

Social search also has been making headlines with Twitter's recent purchase of Summize, an exclusively Twitter-based search engine. You may think that Summize isn't going to rival Google anytime soon, but test it out for yourself and you'll find that searching people's Twitter feeds, rather than the entire internet, is often better at discovering relevant links because it's based on what people are talking about right now. Because of the nature of microblogging, what Summize's engine is really doing is searching the content of current discussions, and that's potentially a very powerful tool.

Now the next step in social-search is already on the horizon. Services like Delver are being rolled out to search through your social-networks on all of your Facebook-type sites in generating your list of search results. For example, if some of your friends bookmarked a website on, it will be ranked higher for you; if some of your friends tagged a picture on Flickr or Myspace, it'll be more likely to be found; likewise if they review a book on Amazon, or a movie on Netflix, or a video on YouTube... and so on.

In short, we are moving beyond the point of simply having online social-networks, to actually making them useful.

At least, that's the "holy grail" these services aspire towards. But there is, of course, a trade-off to all of this. In the wake of a recent agreement where Viacom agreed not to force YouTube to disclose the names of its users under the guise of copyright infringement, Danbri raises a terrific point...

Given such a trend towards increased cross-site profile linkage, it is unfortunate to read that YouTube identifiers are being presented as essentially anonymous IDs: this is clearly not the case. If you know my YouTube ID ‘modanbri’ you can quite easily find out a lot more about me, and certainly enough to find out with strong probability my real world identity. As I say, this is my conscious choice as a YouTube user; had I wanted to be (more) anonymous, I would have behaved differently. To understand YouTube IDs as being anonymous accounts is to radically misunderstand the nature of the modern Web.

Apparently, as Web 2.0 has evolved, so too has the inherent contradiction between wanting privacy online, yet simultaneously giving it away voluntarily through social-networking sites. Perhaps, as social-search services become more prominent, this threshold over determining appropriate limits to public information-sharing will finally be crossed.


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