Better Search through People #3
Mummy are we there yet?
In the past few years I’ve written couple of posts about the opportunities and challenges of search through people (rather than through better algorithm). Couple of quick wins I had recently through my network reminded me to revisit this topic as the last post I wrote was pre-twitter/facebook.
Quick recap – search as we know it still has more muscles than brain. You google something and get 3 zillion results in 0.14 second and now you have to start searching the results. So effectively, when you google something all you get is a massive filing cabinet which you still need to go through in order to find what you’re looking for. It’s easy when you’re looking for a very specific, encyclopedic kind of information (bio of Mozart) but not so easy when you’re looking for nice hotel in Barcelona or a solution for your unique DIY problem.
The idea that for every question I have, someone somewhere has the answer is fairly obvious, yet very appealing. The challenge of connecting me to this someone has a business potential comparable to cheap renewable energy. Few steps in this direction were taken in the past with google and Yahoo answers but these prove somewhat futile (although i must admit that ironically, yahoo answers comes up high on google search…).
The challenge is overcoming basic human motivation hurdle that stem from the asymmetry between the person’s need for an answer and the other(s) who might know that answer. It’s natural to drop everything in time of need and fire up a question to the air, but how do you get anyone to listen and respond? You cannot expect everyone to sit all day and wait for someone to ask them a question they might know the answer for…
The solution then, must come through networks and communities. LinkedIn created their own version which seem to work better (anyone has some data??). Within a community some rules apply:
1. The more people are attached to the group, the more likely they are to contribute
2. People will have stronger motivation to contribute when their contribution is recognized and the benefit they provide to an individual or the collective is made salient.
The most recent and interesting development as far as I can tell is Lazy Tweet:
The idea with LazyTweet is to embrace and extend the questions being asked on Twitter, progressively enhancing Twitter discussions, with the lowest friction possible, while opening those questions up to a wider audience. Think of this as Yahoo! Answers for Twitter
Here lies the problem: thinking of it as Yahoo Answers for Twitter negates the idea of a community to some extant and therefore, I believe, will hinder it’s success. The benefit of taking the idea of better search through people to Twitter has solved one big problem of immediacy – having these random questions on your twitter stream increases the chance for someone to notice.
On the other hand, the volume of questions on your stream (if you follow @lazytweet) is getting a bit disproportionate and out of context (at least for someone like myself who cannot follow more than 120 people or I’ll start losing context and interest very quickly) and it’s becoming counter productive to the project and it brings us to square one – community and context. My educated guess is that your chances to get an answer from your close network (the people who follow you) is higher than getting it from the people who follow @LazyTweet and this is not a big surprise.
Better search through people – are we there yet? Not really but we’ve made a good step forward with the rising popularity of social networks. I now think that the google way will win. Our salvation will probably come from a kick ass algorithm of the semantic web.
What ya think?