Tuesday, July 05, 2005

The future of search = community - so who should play? eBay or Google?

The Internet is rapidly changing and one of the major trends unfolding is that we are entering a period of increased sharing. Initially, online communities used to be centered around commerce (eBay, craigslist) and entertainment (Online games, etc.).

However, this is rapidly changing. Users are increasingly overwhelmed with too much information, and even search engines like Google are having a hard time helping people find what they are looking for.

For example, if you are looking to read up on a new technology like "Ajax" would you rather search on Google or search on a website where people like you have already aggregated and annotated the most relevant information pertaining to "Ajax"?

The answer today is probably both. If you search for "Ajax" on blinklist today you can find some great content that you would not find if you searched for "Ajax" on Google.

Going forward, this shift will dramatically accelerate as new users embrace what is called "social search" which is just another fancy word for user annotated content and knowledge sharing.

These "social" engines help you 1) annotate and store information and b) help you find information from people like you. These people will either be part of your social network (explicit connections) or people that you share an affinity with (part of the same communities, you expressed interest in similar content, etc.).

This problem of finding relevant information is not limited to websites alone. As more and more content gets produces (think about blogs, podcasts, video blogs, music, games, etc.) people will increasingly rely on their network and social connections to help them identify what they want. This is not really surprising because people have always relied heavily on word-of-mouth to find what they want.

The key implication of this, however, is that in the future, search will be much more social and community driven than in the past.

So, why should eBay care?

Well, that depends on what you think eBay is all about. Is eBay primarily an eCommerce company or a C2C community company?

If you say that it is primarily about eCommerce, then perhaps these trends are less important. If you say that eBay is primarily a C2C community company, then this poses both a much bigger opportunity and much bigger potential threat.

After all, will people confine their communities to specific domains?

In other words, if "social search" really develops, then will the place where people search and transact be part of the same community? At least as long as people start with search, eBay might become more and more marginalized.

At the same time, if eBay is really a P2P community company, then could these trends pose a new opportunity for eBay? After all, community is eBay's heritage.

What is clear is that search is going to become more social, more collaborative and more about user generated and annotated content and sharing than it has in the past. That means that search is not only an onramp to the net, it is also turning into an online community.

I just wonder whether eBay or Google see this coming and who will go and capture this opportunity. It seems that Yahoo! has already seen the light. They just launched MyWeb 2.0, the first social search engine very similar to blinklist. Too bad they have already identified this opportunity (for me and other entrepreneurs) but it validates that this trend is coming perhaps faster than I anticipated.

There is another excellent post I discovered about the next evolution of search (i.e. search communities). You can read it here: Act III - search communities

Blink It


Anonymous Lior said...

Let me play the devil's advocate here for a second and raise a few points. This presentation is rather simplistic and ignores some of the unanswered problems you have with social search \ bookmarking \ folksonomy.

Some problems include:
1. Tag synonyms
2. Stemming (actually this is quite easily solved)
3. Tag spamming (imagine a spammer tagging a porn site with 'kids' tag...)
4. Probably the biggest problem - There's still no wide adoption of this method. We're not entirely sure that this will catch up to the average, non-techie, internet user. What will drive people to annotate resources? For the benefit of others? I doubt it. This gap is yet to be bridged, and I still haven't found a complete solution.

3:58 AM  
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5:38 PM  

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