Search has been somewhat traditional for the last ten years. If you need to find a site you go to a search engine and type in some keywords and get shown a selection of sites. This model is coming under increasing threat from user generated sites such as facebook and twitter. The premise is that there will come a day when search services will be delivered to us via our friends and contacts through social media sites instead of from an all seeing algorithm at search engine HQ. So if you’re looking to find a restaurant in edinburgh you would ask facebook (or twitter) and you would receive results or recommendations from your network of friends or the wider facebook / twitter network. The results that you’re going to get could come from a direct response from a friend, business page, or a status update from a few days ago about visiting a good restaurant.
Here’s where I see it falling down. The majority of time when I ask a question on Facebook I get a joke or sarcastic response. That doesn’t happen when I use a search engine. The majority of people (the non techy ones) I know on social networks are there to mess around with friends, share funny things and talk about what they’re doing. So I would think that results would need to come from a larger network, which is not actually a problem when you’re dealing with the number of users Facebook has.
Does it work? I tried searching on Twitter for an edinburgh restaurant and I found a few links to reviews which in turn linked to restaurant sites. The process did take longer than a Google search would have and it didn’t provide as many results but it did give me the name and url of a restaurant. That’s a topic that people like talking about though so there will be plenty of posts on the subject. What about something more boring like a carpet shop in Glasgow? No relevant results for that one. I got the same results with Facebook, lots of results for restaurants but nothing for carpets.
So Facebook are currently limited by the content that their users add. If they can either get more businesses to sign up or mix user data with an index of the web we could see social media search really take off. They would also have to fight the user habit of Googling which is probably their biggest obstacle.