The Evolution of Social Search

Earlier this week, I had the good fortune to attend the New York Semantic Web Meetup, which featured three excellent presentations. I’ll confess that I primarily attended the event in order to learn more about open data platform Factual, particularly to see how it compares to Freebase and Google Squared.

But I found the other two presentations, “The Evolution of Social Search” by Nitya Narasimhan and “User Interfaces for the Semantic Web” by Duane Degler, even more compelling. Hopefully I’m not just biased because they both mentioned me in their slides!

I really wish Nitya’s session had been recorded as a video, but the slides embedded above will have to suffice for those who couldn’t see it live. Hopefully they communicate Nitya’s framing of the social search space. She does a great job of weaving together the various strands of social search: people as sensors promoting “real-time” content, social filters to reflect personalized notions of trust, and routers to leverage the collective intelligence of crowds. She gives tons of examples and links for further reading. Hopefully I’ll get her to give this talk again–with less stringent time constraints–and record it for online viewing.

By Daniel Tunkelang

High-Class Consultant.

8 replies on “The Evolution of Social Search”

Yeah, she doesn’t talk about collaborative search. The problem of finding collaborators seems to fit into the social-as-router case, but the actual collaboration process is a different animal.

But perhaps Nitya neglected collaborative search because there are no examples of it that have gone mainstream. I’m familiar with the research you and Gene have been doing at FXPAL, as well that of some other researchers, but it seems that very little of this work has made its way out of the lab. The only example I’m aware of is Microsoft SearchTogether. Unless you consider social bookmarking to be in this class–in which case there are certainly live examples out there.


Do you mean there are no examples of technical systems that have gone mainstream, or no examples of the mainstream engaging in collaborative searching behavior?


For example, imagine the scenario where you and anywhere between 1 and 4 friends want to go out to eat tonight. You talk for a bit, and discover that there are some constraints.. there has to be a vegetarian option for one person, another person simply will not go for Chinese, because they’ve had it three times this week already, and a third person wants something spicy.

So everybody goes back to their computers and starts looking for a restaurant that’ll satisfy the group’s shared information need. They embark together on a shared need. This is not Aardvark, right? Because with Aardvark, you’re asking your network for an answer. But in your little group, it’s not like any one person already has the answer. You’re all looking for it.

This sort of behavior happens all the time. It’s mainstream. There may not yet be a technical implementation of this behavior, but the behavior itself is indeed mainstream. So I’m simply pointing this out, because it continues to be overlooked.

Even Google recently took a large step in this direction. See:

Note that the system Google is describing is NOT “social” bookmarking, in the sense. It is NOT “wisdom of crowd” folksonomy. It is “collaborative” bookmarking: a small group or team with a shared information need.


I meant that there were no examples of technical systems that have gone mainstream. I have no doubt that many people engage in collaborative information seeking, regardless of the available tools. And I agree with you on the distinction between expert finding (the usual application of “social as router”) and collaborative information seeking. Point taken that the same distinction applies to bookmarking.


Totally agreed; collab tools aren’t available.

Still, the point I was trying to make is that if we’re going to understand the space, understand what various tools do or could do, then we need to talk about all aspects of what it means to bring other people into the search process. Perhaps I’m oversensitive/overreacting, but this is the second talk (@brynn had another one at SXSW) in the past two weeks that completely ignores an entire area of related research.

It’s not like a lot of the existing routing tools (Aardvark) or social filtering tools (Heystacks) are really that mainstream, either. The academic and early adopter crowd knows about them, but my mother does not. My brother also does not. Granted, they are much further along than Collab Info Seeking tools. But we still have a way to go until they are truly mainstream.

So because we’re still at a relatively early stage, I see no need to exclude various other forms of multi-user interactivity from the discussion. That’s all I’m saying.


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