In September 2007 I wrote a letter to Media Week entitled 'Search is on to power a social search engine.' My conclusion being that, 'initiatives to date have not achieved sufficient scale to make them viable. If sites such as Facebook, Wikipedia’s Wikia and Yahoo! can factor human-powered recommendations into their offerings, there could yet be a genuine alternative to algorithmic, computer powered search - and so a challenger to the search hierarchy.'
The idea of social search has changed in emphasis since then with 'real time' / instant feedback being the key component, but as Facebook and Google experiment and Twitter Search gains audience, it looks like it is ready to change the face of search results and the way we find information.
Facebook have announced today that they are intending to explore new options around Search. Writing on the Facebook blog, Facebook Engineer Kari Lee writes: "you will be able to search your News Feed for the most recent status updates, photos, links, videos and notes being shared by your friends and the Facebook Pages of which you're a fan. You will also be able to search for status updates, posted links and notes in Search from people who have chosen to make their profile and content available to everyone."
She goes on to show how it is possible to search for opinions around the Iranian election:
These results are made up of information from friends profiles, public profiles and Facebook Fan Page content. However, whilst Facebook now has a 200 million user base, the pool of information within which users can search would appear to be limited - not many people have public profiles and the privacy settings prevent anyone from doing a full scrape of Facebook user opinion. I don't think it will be a question of whether Facebook are too late on this, it will be more of a question about how Facebook scale Facebook Search against the walled-off / private areas of Facebook user accounts.
At the same time, Google are rumoured to be actively exploring the options around real time search, with Mashable claiming that a Google Real Time search engine is imminent. Mashable write "This new product will sort results by relevancy, will be integrated with standard Google search, and will appear based on frequently-used keywords or current events. It also looks like its main source of results will come from Twitter."
Usage of Twitter Search also continues to grow and it looks like Real Time / social search may have finally arrived. It is not just users who stand to gain from being able to find personalised recommendations and content though. This data is a goldmine for marketers and the ability to easily access Facebook user comment will further enhance the possibilities that Social Listening offers brands. Real time search of social content will be as important for advertisers as it is for consumers - further changing the way that brands approach everything from advertising to CRM to product development.
Social search is finally taking off as Digg, Twitter and Friendfeed experiment
More social search developments - new Google Blog Search, MSE360, Social Mention and 123People.com
Will Google ever really know me?