Search vs. Social: The Battle of Man and Machine Rages On

Where do you search_sm
Where do you go to find information?

The way we find information online is in a constant state of evolution.  It began with categorized portals like Yahoo and AOL before moving on to search and the now ubiquitous Google.   Digital information retrieval now appears to be undergoing another seismic shift.

Over the past year, we’ve seen social media embraced and adopted by nearly all demographics, from forty-something year old mothers on Facebook to twenty-something’s on Twitter.  But social media isn’t just for socializing anymore.  While search engines like Google are still the primary tools for information seekers, social media is rapidly entering the search landscape.

According to “The Nielsen Company” 18% of all online searches are conducted through social media outlets like Wikipedia, Blogs, and social networks sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Although social networks only attribute for 4% of online information searches, I wonder how much this number will grow?  Given Twitter’s current valuation of $1 billion dollars, despite negligible revenue, others seem to think so.  Google and Microsoft spend their days fretting about this as well and are reportedly in talks with the micro-blogging service to create real time data mining services that tap the micro-blog’s real time flow of user generated data.

Twitter and Facebook

Social networks like Twitter and Facebook have a key advantage over traditional search.  Instead of indexing the web via an algorithm, social networks curate information naturally based on the organic conversations of human beings.  The result is content that is ostensibly of interest to large groups of people.  Furthermore, this content can be indexed in real-time, allowing a sense of immediacy that engines like Google can’t compete with.  For example, the announcement I linked earlier that reported that Microsoft and Twitter are in talks doesn’t and wont’ appear on the first page of a Google search for “Microsoft Twitter” and yet a Twitter search brings up the article 50 times over.  (If this doesn’t work for you, keep in mind I am writing this at 11:30 am today.  The web moves fast!)

Information on social networks is also supported by a community of individuals that you belong to adding a sense of personal endorsement consumers seem to trust.   And the data sets are not small either.  Sites like Facebook and Twitter are massive enterprises – Facebook alone has enough users to be the fourth largest country in the world.  It only makes sense for people to utilize social networking sites to search for trending topics when so many people are connected.

How do you think social networks will change the way people search for information – do you think more people will begin using social networks versus search engines for certain information?

Here’s what a few AgencyNetter’s thought about this topic…

  • “When looking for up to date information (i.e. what’s happening now) searching Social Networks yields a more effective search result. Social media search is a crowd powered resources instead of a machine produced resource. You can get personal opinions on results from social media, while search engines just give you the link, not the discussion or context around the result.A personal example: When I want a more specific and reputation built result, I use delicious.com. I look how many users have bookmarked a certain link, which indicates that it has been highly reliable on the subject term that I searched. Using a search engine to search the same thing, a lot of of the top results are basically noise; they have been optimized to be on top of the results but that doesn’t mean that they are the best result available.”

    - OG

  • “When I need to know more about a particular item or mention, I always start by going through a search engine (Google). If I’m unable to find exactly what I’m looking for, I turn my search over to Twitter. By asking my followers my question, my search is then spread across different platforms as others tend to do their own version of searching for info before returning a response to me.Search engines tend to be more reliable; however, Twitter comes in handy if you want more of a personalized result.”

    - Elissa

  • “Not only has Twitter’s search function (not as much with Facebook’s…yet) changed the way I search for information, but it also changed the way I value information. Knowing that I can instantly gain access to the most precise piece of information (no matter how segmented or niche) because I understand how to ask for it, has revolutionized the way I connect.  Social search has essentially empowered people to become impromptu cultural anthropologists and social scientists and, since democratization and transparency of information is the road Twitter has been  traveling for the last year or so, our perception of “influence” will change.  It makes no difference to me if CNN breaks a story or if I receive it through a retweet from a neighborhood friend.  What matters is that I receive the information as quickly as possible.”

    - Richie

Image Credit: Id-Iom