Friendster has rolled out a new internet search service powered by Eurekster that taps into your online social network to personalize and enhance search results.
The new service takes advantages of the preferences and interests of Friendster members and their friends to filter search results to more closely match personal interests than general web search engines. The service is powered by Eurekster, which uses the Yahoo web index and also includes Overture sponsored listings.
The service automatically keeps a history of your searches, allowing you to filter results based on your previous search activity. Results can also be influenced by your personal network ("friends," "friends of friends," and so on) or all Friendster members.
Search results are prioritized with results viewed by anyone in your personal network appearing at the top of the list. These results are highlighted with a smiley face icon.
There are a couple of interesting search history features. "Recent Searches" displays the queries run by you and your network in the near past. "Popular Searches" displays the most popular searches within your network. The assumption is that your friends are likely to have enough similar interests that their searching might turn up interesting sites for you.
Concerned about privacy? Friendster search offers controls to make sure personally sensitive searches stay private. For starters, you can check a "private" box before running a search. This will prevent your search terms from being seen by your network, and will also keep the search terms from displaying in your recent searches list.
In both the "recent searches" and "popular searches" lists, search terms you entered are shown in bold. Clicking a red "X" icon next to bolded terms removes the query from view by you and the rest of your network.
Finally, Friendster maintains a what they call a "blind user id" to track your searches. Your identity is never revealed to other Friendster users and the information passed to Eurekster cannot be used to identify you individually.
What about the quality of search results? Although Friendster search uses the Yahoo web index, the number of search results returned for most searches is substantially less than when using Yahoo itself. Additionally, you also almost always get sponsored links with Friendster search, even when the identical query on Yahoo returns no sponsored links.
But sheer numbers aren't really the point. Friendster search continuously learns from the search behavior of users and their social networks, in theory making results more relevant for many types of queries. In practice, relevancy may not always be improved, as noted by Danny Sullivan in his article about Eurekster when it launched earlier this year.
One problem is that unless you take the time to build up a personal network, you're not likely to see much benefit from this type of personalized search. With small networks of two or three people, it's also fairly easy to guess who searched for what, which raises another potential privacy concern.
So the new search service is intriguing and potentially useful for users who already have an active Friendster network, or those who are willing to spend the time to build a new one.
That said, the new service offers attractive options for search marketers. Eurekster CEO Steven E. Marder says that the new search capabilities on Friendster have begun yielding extremely high conversion rates in excess of industry norms.
Friendster search is available only to members. Membership is free; to join simply fill out the registration form. This may prove a barrier for some, as registration requires that you provide personal details such as your sex, birth date, and relationship status—and by default, all of this information will be visible to other Friendster users.