January 04, 2011
Your Friends, Experts, And Search Results

Writing in Technology Review Paul Boutin reports on how a Microsoft Bing-Facebook alliance is allowing Facebook friends links to influence Bing search results.

Microsoft's alliance with Facebook could give it a key advantage over Google in the race to provide a better search experience. Google has also sought to improve its results by tapping information from users' social sphere, but its own social networking services have not been adopted anywhere near as widely as Facebook, so the information to which Google has access is relatively limited. In contrast, Facebook provides Bing with an ever-growing data mine of friends' links.

It is an interesting idea because, as the article points out, a lot of automated efforts to generate links to boost page rankings make the link indexing algorithms less satisfactory. The use of links to rank pages is, as the article points out, a social approach since it uses web page links m made by others (albeit mostly anonymous others).

But Facebook friends suffer a number of limitations as substitutes for links as guides to web page quality. First off, Facebook is also already suffering from the creation of basically fake identities who go around attempting to friend lots of people. Often they use pictures of pretty girls to lure suckers into accepting friends who then post assorted schemes to get you to spend your money - or they find out info about you to help in identity theft). which then try friending large numbers of people. Since I write a public blog using my real name I get readers friending me on Facebook and I do not always know whether they are real people. So do I have any fictional friends? Maybe.

But there's another problem with friends: Most friends of most people are not authorities in anything important. Okay, that sounds snobbish. But it is true. Plus, a lot of Facebook friends are just people from high school reconnecting. I've said yes to friend requests from people I probably never spoke with while I was in high school. Now their link preferences should influence my search results? I don't want the added intellectual burden of deciding whether to friend someone because their presence on my friend list might mess up my search results.

How I think social and search should go together: When we go out searching on a topic we need the ability to take on a persona where our "temporary friends" are experienced in an area we are interested in. So, for example, suppose you decided to take up mountain climbing. You'd get better results if experts in hiking seamlessly and automatically would get plugged into your "friends" network to feed into determining the rankings of search engine results for hiking tips and product recommendations.

To make this work far more of our history of life experiences, skills, accomplishments, and interests would need to be captured by social media and search engine server databases. That includes our history of purchases and what we liked and disliked. So, for example, our purchases and product rankings on Amazon.com should influence our general search results. If everyone reveals more about themselves and more of those pieces get connected up in data structures then search engines will be able to use these preferences to come up with results much more precisely aimed to individual needs and abilities.

We need the ability to tap into many different networks of influencers and experts as we go looking for answers for problems in many aspects of our lives. Facebook already has some of the building blocks that would allow search results to be influenced by more than just friends. One can "Like" people, books, and causes and others can too. So in theory if one has taken the time to "Like" enough authors or composers search engine results could be influenced by, for example, the fact that you like some author or composer and the results could include other authors or composers liked by other people (who aren't in your friends list) who share many of your likes. But I recently went thru looking at the Like lists of various smarter Facebook friends and some had filled in no Likes or Likes that were really esoteric and which I would not want to have influencing my search results.

Even if you have lots of friends with lots of Likes this does not help when you venture into areas where you've never expressed interests and neither have your friends. It also falls down if your friends are just running with the pack and like things they know little about. We really need a "use experts" feature when doing searches where we either specify the type of experts we want to have influence our results or the search engine tries to make a best guess on which experts are most relevant.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2011 January 04 11:02 PM  Comm Tech Society


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