With Hakia releasing a new social networking feature on their search engine (see entry in Read/Write Web) and Google sponsoring OpenSocial, clear strides are being made to integrate the search and social networking spaces. To many, including us, this almost begs the exclamation “About time!”
Social networking, for the most part, has been built around imitating (and hopefully positively effecting) the physical relationships we already have in the real world (think LinkedIn, Friendster, Facebook). Only very recently has progress being made in linking people based on their interests (think StumbleUpon to a degree and third party applications like uPlayMe, etc) and now with the recent announcement of Google’s OpenSocial we expect this to accelerate the development of a richer, more meaningful social networking experience. There is still significant work that needs to be done in terms of connecting us to people we ought to be connected to. This is why we at Youlicit are excited about the “Meet Others” feature on Hakia which is being called a “peer-to-peer transactional platform” and are further building upon this concept at Youlicit.
Richard McManus poses an almost rhetorical question on his blog entry asking if search and social networking go together. We believe that the purpose of a search tool is to help you find the information you need with the least effort possible (see Relevance/Effort metric). To this end, if there is someone who has, and is willing to share, the information or expertise you are looking for, then what better medium to connect you to him than that in which you already go to find your information. Granted there is a spectrum of modes that different users fall into depending on their personality types (and time constraints) ranging from solitary to the very social (as pointed out by Charles Knight in his blog). In the end everyone can and wants to benefit from accessing the information (and people) they need as quickly as possible. This is why we are including “Related Users” for every query you perform on Youlicit (this feature is soon to come and can currently be seen on your Personalized Recommendations and User pages). We are using this as a base to build out a social networking aspect to our website recommendation service.
As you read this, we are working hard to better determine what users are interested in as well as allow users to share with others what they are recommending on a certain topic. The end goal is to become an enabler of collaboration between users to better facilitate the discovery and sharing of information. Building a social network based on your real world relationships with people you already know can help improve and extract more value out of those relationships but isn’t the most effective means to introduce you to other people you ought to know. A higher value social network connects you to people who share your interests and can help you not only discover the information you need quicker but ultimately increase your productivity and introduce you to more “meaningful” resources in your area of interest (see Expert Systems entry).
This is obviously not an easy feat to accomplish (otherwise it would have already been done!) and there are many hurdles that need to be crossed. How do you learn a user’s interests while safeguarding and protecting his right to privacy? How do you maintain the credibility and quality of such a “transactional platform” (i.e. how do you prevent unwanted information such as spam from diluting the quality of the service)? How do you enable varying levels of collaboration (from direct synchronous communication to asynchronous communication) with minimal distraction and effort from users? How, if possible, do you most optimally monetize such a transactional platform that will incentivize further collaboration?
The creation of such a platform inherently requires the cooperation of users (and of course technology) to make it all happen but we are confident that this is possible and have no doubt that a need for such a platform exists and must be met. As we develop and roll out this platform, we would love to hear your thoughts on this matter and get your feedback on what you would like to see on such a platform.