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SES: Humans? That’s HOT

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SES New York reached out to attendees in one session where moderator Chris Sherman enabled the conversation on social search.

SES: Humans? That's HOT
SES: Humans? That’s HOT
Who Can Compete with Google?

Humans had the firm hand in organizing web content in directories before search engines improved the online experience algorithmically. What goes around comes around, as the best improvements available to search may be in the hands of its all too human users.

Chris recounted some of that history at SES New York during the Social Search Overview session. To him, the rapid evolution of social search stems from the earliest days of the World Wide Web.

"We have always had social search," said Chris. "Yahoo was originally a directory of websites created by human editors, not a search engine. In my mind, Yahoo was probably the first true social search site that existed."

The algorithmic search that has brought Google to the forefront of the industry, is also social in nature. Chris said this happens since the search engines reflect the human biases in their programmers’ choices.

Social search is going personal, and the importance of personalization to the search industry cannot be understated. Chris called it a Holy Grail for them; we think that’s likely because of the intrinsic value of personal information to search advertisers.

(If we’re going to talk about search and personalization, we would be remiss in not mentioning PreFound, who we have covered previously. – David)

Chris believes search algorithms have hit a plateau, and little innovation can be achieved with that technology now. "That’s why we have the current trend toward social search."

Humans can do some things that computers can’t. Chris cited image recognition as an example; an algorithm can’t see images. Image search tries to compensate through looking at text and tags placed with pictures, but it’s not the same thing as human judgment.

To author Seth Godin, search as a whole is broken. "It’s not the search engines’ fault," he said. Seth cited an example search at Google for espresso machines, and the 1.8 million results the search engine found.

(Seth’s also made the espresso reference before, going back to October 2005. – David)

He told attendees that engines have responded over time to all of the content webmasters have built, all to get traffic from algorithmic search. Social search can help build up a topic through the contributions of its more discerning users.

Apostolos Gerasoulis, Teoma’s founder and Ask.com’s TV star, (you can call him A.G.) talked about the progress his engine has made with a currently-internal effort called the Edison Project.

(Ask has operations near Edison, N.J., which just happens to be near Menlo Park, which just happens to be where Thomas Edison operated his ‘invention factory’ lab. You’re welcome. – David)

"I consider the future the integration of social knowledge to guide you where you want to go," he said. "At Ask.com we used social knowledge to build our image search." A.G. noted how Chris has called that image search the best out there.

Their Edison Project will integrate social elements into search. "We must look to innovative solutions to deliver what the user wants," said A.G.

Tomi Poutanen, Senior Director of Product Management, Yahoo! Social Search, touted three of Yahoo’s services, Flickr, Delicious, and Yahoo Answers, as being more interesting and useful than conventional search because of the human element.

"When I came here I searched for hotels. I got results that were not useful," said Tomi. "Using del.icio.us I got much more useful results because of the human element."

(So which search did Tomi use, we can’t help but wonder. Maybe he should have tried Yahoo Travel.- David)

Personalization looks like the wave of the future. We think site publishers should keep this in mind and watch the search space for trends and technologies that will enable them to make their content more available to an audience that will increasingly demand more personally relevant results in search.

SES: Humans? That’s HOT
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