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Tomi Poutanen Talks About Social Search

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The latest in my rounds of interviews was with Tomi Poutanen at Yahoo. Tomi is the senior director of product management for Yahoo Answers and del.icio.us. Our conversation focused on the varying roles of algorithmic search and social search.

For example, we talked about which types of search problems each type of search handles better. Social search (in this case Yahoo Answers) is better for subjective queries, such as "what is the best restaurant in Seattle." Or social search (in this case del.icio.us) handles queries like "new york hotels" better because it will return a list of the hotels that have the most tags on them by users, instead of the most powerful affiliate marketing sites.

It's very engaging to ponder the impact of social search on the overall search environment. I have long believed that the best of both worlds is a possibility, with an editorial layer over algorithmic results. The editorial layer would have to be willing to engage in active pruning of bad or questionable stuff.

However, I don't know if anyone will ever build anything like this, because of the economic challenges (how do you make enough money with all the overhead of the editorial staff?). But it would be great to see it. In the meantime, there is a place for social search. Del.icio.us has an Alexa ranks of 186, and Flickr has an Alexa rank of 43. No matter how you slice it, that's an impressive traffic level.


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