Twitter Learnings For Social Search

When I follow conference events such as media140 online I’m always impressed by how quickly I’m able to get a grasp of what’s happening. It’s great to see people sharing information so freely and I probably learn more about Twitter and where it’s taking us in a few hours than if I’d spent an entire month reading and researching. It reminds me of the importance of bringing people together to discuss topics and it makes me think about how Twitter is revolutionizing the way in which we use the web, more specifically it causes me to reflect on how Twitter is affecting the area that we work in, social search.

For those not fully familiar with social search it’s about harnessing user-generated information to help people find what they want, it’s not new online and is age old off-line where for most of us asking for people’s advice is second nature scrape google search results. Approaches vary and for simplicity we can briefly split them in to three separate areas. First there’s reordering or amending algorithmic search results with user input, example proponents of this are Sproose and more recently Zakta. Secondly, there’s the option to incorporate relevant updates, tweets or reviews into your search results, something Google and Bing announced recently. Thirdly there’s the ability to find people as opposed to pages who can help you find what you’re looking for, this is the approach that Aardvark and we at Cofacio have chosen to adopt. The three approaches are complimentary so while the first and second method help us define the ‘what’, the third approach might be seen more as identifying the ‘who’ we need to know

So what’s the big deal with social search? Well when Eric Schmidt claimed recently at the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo Orlando 2009 that how to rank real-time social content is “the great challenge of the age”, in my opinion it’s not so much a sign of where he thinks things are going in the future but more a recognition that traditional search no longer works for an increasing amount of the web’s content, namely user generated information on Twitter and social networks. Finding stuff is one thing but where one search engine really wins over another is in relevancy, so while Google or Bing can incorporate tweets, updates and customer reviews, the problem they face, and as Schmidt points out, is how can they rank them, how can they break through the noise and make them relevant? It’s this problem that practitioners of social search are trying to resolve, and I would argue that it’s an area where we can take 3 key learnings from Twitter and tweeters.

1) Facebook is not just habit-forming but productivity disguised as addiction – take a few minutes each day to scroll through and visit: see what your friends and acquaintances are doing and what they are broadcasting. Who knows, you might actually learn a thing or two (especially if your friends are more progressive than you). Try to provide encouraging, value-added comments regularly. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, on order to reach Self-Actualization there are four components that must be fulfilled first. Esteem, Social, Safety and Physiological Needs. Facebook is a great venue to help fulfill a person social needs. It gives you an opening to so many people you cannot always have physical contact with. Use Facebook birthday reminders weekly (to send well wishes or to mail a virtual bday gift) and try to visit a friend’s Facebook page before meeting up with him/her so that you can be knowledgeable about their family and personal matters ahead of your visit — they will be highly impressed (or even shocked), and the visit will be more rewarding and at the very least, less embarrassing (Don’t forget to use your FB app on your iPhone).

2) Don’t just close the browser window, broadcast it. When you see an article that you like, don’t just close your browser when done or bookmark on your computer – bookmark the article and share your thoughts with others, using Facebook, Twitter, Del.icio.us or Digg. By sharing articles that you find interesting, you are also creating a profile for yourself so that the internet can better learn about you and better cater to your specific needs as well as to the needs of others within the network. Trust me — the more the Web knows you, the less you’ll have to do.

3) RSS means one day your own individualized internet. Consider signing up for an RSS feed. As the web is evolving, we no longer need to actively search online for information regularly. The information that we will enjoy reading should come find us — all a part of smarter, more tailored internet.

4) Podcasting is not Dead — it’s a sleeping bear. This topic dovetails nicely with RSS. What is a podcast — piece of audio or video content that is delivered by an RSS feed which can be downloaded automatically to your iPod. If you listen to your iPod while commuting on a bus/train or when walking, consider signing up for a podcast to some of your favorite talk shows — I personally, like to listen to NPR. Then everyday, just sync up your iPod and you automatically have your programming downloaded and ready to go.

5) Because other people already know and knowledge sharing should be free. Before doing something new or something you are not too familiar with, go online, check Ehow or Ask.com to read about how other people have conducted the same tasks. Instructions written by layman and critiqued and enhanced by the general public are normally more readable and relevant than instructions provided in sterile textbooks or instruction manuals. If you have a skill or experience doing something, no matter how mundane, consider sharing it on these social media sites also. You will be adding on to your profile (remember letting the internet know that you are actually a quasi-expert in something relevant) while helping others all across the globe live a fuller, richer life.

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