BusinessWeek on Yahoo and Social Search

BusinessWeek’s Ben Elgin takes a look at social search, focusing on Yahoo, in his article: Yahoo’s Social Circle.

Ben’s article offers a review of recent “social search” purchases from Yahoo including WebJay,, and Flickr.

Elgin writes:

These deals are key building blocks in one of Yahoo’s biggest bets. By cultivating online communities — and encouraging people to tap into the collective knowledge of these groups — Yahoo is hoping to change the way people find information online.

Let’s also not forget the introduction of homegrown services like Yahoo 360 (beta), MyWeb, and Yahoo Answers.

He goes on to say:

Social search aims to shift power from Web publishers, who create these links, to everyday Internet users by examining their bookmarks or giving them tools to express their opinions.

The article also focuses on those who are skeptics to the whole social search “thing.” They include that, at least to this point, “most Internet users haven’t even heard of Flickr or, let alone spent time sharing photos online or posting bookmarks of their favorite sites.” He also correctly (IMHO) that it takes effort and time (something many people don’t have enough off) to make social search work well for both the individual and group as a whole.

Vivisimo/Clusty CEO, Raul Valdes-Perez is quoted saying that the wisdom of crowds might not trump what “raw” computing power can offer.

The article has more on Google’s feelings about social search that Elgin characterizes as “tepid.” He also includes as mention of Eurekster (kudos Ben on remembering a pioneer) and includes a comment from Charlene Li who says that, “social search is not one of these things that will take off overnight. It will take a lot of time to build.”

So, the question is how long, if ever, to make these services mainstream and if, the smaller ones, can keep going if and until social search becomes something mom and grandma are doing.

Personally, I see a combination of the raw computing power that Valdes-Perez describes coupled to some degree with professionals, yes humans, to help make the most efficient use of this power. Remember, what some call metadata, tagging, etc. has been done by librarians for years and is really cataloging. Granted, it’s not at the scale that the open web poses.

However, the skill sets info pros (aka librarians and other info scientists )have and are trained to have could prove to be very useful both with large general-purpose engines as well as the booming search vertical marketplace. Perhaps this is new and growing role for information professionals and a reason why library and information science graduate programs have never been more crowded.

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