Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Chris Sherman on social search

Chris Sherman at Search Engine Watch posts a nice critique of social search, the efforts to layer community-provided content or add social networking features to web search.

Some excerpts:
Social search ... incorporates both automated software as well as human judgments ... That's what makes social search intriguing -- and fundamentally flawed ...

No matter how many people get involved with bookmarking, tagging, [or] voting ... the scale and scope of the web means that most content will be unheralded by social search efforts ... People-mediated search will never be as comprehensive as algorithmic search.

Another problem arises with tagging ... Tags are not a panacea for categorizing and organizing the web ... Without [a] controlled vocabulary, tagging ultimately remains a chaotic, messy process.

Another factor is human laziness ... We've always had the ability to add tags and other metadata to our Microsoft office documents, and yet how many people do this?

We also have a problem with idiots and spammers. Some people ... do a poor job of labeling content. Others will deliberately mislabel content ... In both cases, it's difficult ... to recognize this spuriously labeled content ... it's difficult to filter the noise from the signal.
On this last point, the mainstream and the profits of the targeting that broad audience attract spam. If sites using tagging and other forms of community-generated content enter the mainstream, they will be flooded with spam.

When that happens, the problem will be how to automatically filter all the tag and user-content spam, a problem that looks little different than automatically filtering web spam.

See also the article Chris posted a day later, "Who's Who in Social Search".

See also my previous posts, "Yahoo gets social with MyWeb" and "Different visions of the future of search".

2 comments:

jeremy said...

No matter how many people get involved with bookmarking, tagging, [or] voting ... the scale and scope of the web means that most content will be unheralded by social search efforts ... People-mediated search will never be as comprehensive as algorithmic search.

But.. isn't the same thing really true of most algorithmic search, too? I mean, if you're an engine that only puts the top 10 documents on a page, you're also losing out on comprehensiveness. Nobody looks past the first page.

Contrast that with an exploratory search engine (as usual, I'll trot out Ask and Vivisimo as examples), where you can really "see" hundreds of documents at once.. though exploratory interfaces and tools.

To me, it is not so much of an issue between social search vs. algorithmic search. It is an issue of precision-oriented search vs. recall-oriented search. Most if not all of today's web search technologies, whether social or algorithmic, are oriented toward the former.

Matt Moore said...

So this depends on what the searcher's intent is. Do they need a comprehensive output? Or do they need at least one "good enough" hit?

There's a big difference between trying to find a directory of local pizza places & doing due diligence on a new corporate acquisition.

I believe social search does have a role to play - but not everywhere...