The New Social Web Will Be Based On Seamless Discovery, Not Just Limited To Search


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A few weeks ago, all eyes were on the announcement of Google +1. As many have said, +1 is a smart move for Google. It incorporates the wisdom of the masses to drive better search results.This is ultimately good for everyone not only because it will sound a warning shot to link farms, but also because it’s another way to provide better search results through social signals.

Today, most people discover Web content through search or through the people they follow on Facebook and Twitter. But both have limiting factors. Search is limited to the vocabulary you already have to formulate a search question. Discovery — said another way, serendipitous search — largely happens through people and influencers we already know.

What if I don’t yet have the vocabulary to search for great sites about bicycling and yet none of my friends, or the influencers I follow, are into that sport. Where do I turn?

The reality is that we don’t always share the same interests as the people in our immediate social circle. Sometimes I develop a specific interest I want to learn more about, like heli-skiing or Ethiopian cuisine. If I suddenly develop a desire to drop 15,000 feet from a helicopter down a mountain of snow, I know my current social network won’t be able to offer much advice. But somewhere in the two billion users on the Internet today, it’s likely that I can learn about my new-found passion and find content related to that interest.

I’d argue the Web needs a new, more intuitive navigation paradigm: a way to discover content that I’m broadly interested in while not shackled to my friend’s existing interests or my limited vocabulary.

Consider the following research my company just fielded:

  • More than half (53 per cent) of people online are seeking advice from someone they don’t know, but who is very knowledgeable about a topic;
  • But only 22 per cent of people thought it was easy to meet new people online with whom they share a common interest.

In the real world, our friends introduce us to a myriad of new and interesting things to explore. Experts guide us when we’re looking to pick up a new hobby or are exploring a specific area of interest. Imagine if we could seamlessly discover personally relevant and interesting content as we go about our daily routines online. We could unveil useful content and opportunities we didn’t know existed.

Amazon and Netflix do something like this today on their own sites. They look at your what products you’ve looked at, or what movies you’ve liked, and match them with other people who “look” like you. You end up with product and movie recommendations that I’ll bet have made most people reading this act on, whether it’s purchasing that extra book or watching that really funny movie. Apply these models to the entire Web and you can find people who look like who from whom you could learn.

A truly social Web — one that’s all about people, not just your friends — has the potential to change the very nature of how we discover new content, products, and people. And the potential to be huge. We’re on our way and I’m excited about the big things yet to come.