How Search Will Revolutionize Social Networking

05 Sep
Steve Rubel via Micro Persuasion shared by 8 people

Social networking is on fire. eMarketer predicts that in the US the category will reach 44.3% of Internet users by year's end. According to Google Insights, related searches are up 3,000% over the last four years. It has a ways to go before it's truly mainstream on a global level. (More than half of adults in 17 countries don't know what social networking is, according to Synovate.) Still the phenomenon is a sure thing, even though the individual winners and losers will surely shift.

What has me most excited though about social networking is a capability that isn't really in place yet in a powerful way - and that's search.

Much like the early days of the web, social networks have yet to fully exploit search. Recall that before Google came along 10 years ago web search was woeful at best and also un-monetized. Eventually that all changed. Even though Facebook's search is weak, already it's one of the fastest growing search engines. That's remarkable.

Search will become a core feature of the social network experience, add in social elements, usher in easier monetization and in the process revolutionize advertising. Here's a look at some trends to watch...

TRUSTED SEARCH TRUMPS UNTRUSTED SEARCH - Do you trust Google? I do as does most everyone. Do you trust what's in Google? For me, that depends on what I am searching for and where it comes from. However, I do trust the 1,000 people I have added to my social network on Facebook. In fact, it's why I limit my connections there to people I have either met or corresponded with. I value what they talk about and share there.

However, there's a gaping hole in the Facebook experience. While I can search through my friends, find new friends and also groups, I can't search the content my network creates. In addition, I can't go a layer deeper to see what my friends' friends are sharing (as I can on Friendfeed). Look for search to get embedded deeper into the social networking experience and create a split between trusted and untrusted search. The impact on PR will be major here too.

Microsoft's forthcoming integration of Live Search into Facebook could be the first step toward trusted search. MySpace has already site-wide search and can tweak it to achieve the same. (MySpace and Microsoft are Edelman clients.)

CONTEXTUAL SEARCH ADS GET SOCIAL - Google and MySpace have an advertising agreement going back to 2006. Facebook and Microsoft have a similar arrangement that started last year. So the search engines clearly view the social networks as a monetization venue and vice versa.

Social network advertising to date, though, has been a mixed bag. Everyone is innovating. But the draw on social networks is your friends, which makes it harder to be distracted by ads. Enter search. Watch for contextual search advertising and programs like Facebook's social ads to mix. New models will emerge where contextual ads are surfaced based on the content created and recommended by your friends.

SOCIAL NETWORKS BECOME SEARCH ENGINES - If you went through my browser history, you would be bored. I spend most of my time in Google's universe of sites and on The New York Times site. Beyond that, you will find a bushel of social networks - Facebook, Friendfeed, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Now, what if I could interact with any or all of my favorite sites all from a single social network and have my friends add value to that experience? It's coming. Today, for example, on Facebook I use Six Apart's BlogIt to Twitter. I also catch up with my favorite sports teams using Sportsline's Facebook application. These are simplistic though. Notice what's missing - I can't search the web yet from inside Facebook. However, on MySpace I can. But this is the beginning.

In the near future the search engines will all create applications or hooks into soc nets that let you search and annotate the web in conjunction with your friends, changing the web experience. The image above from the Shifted Librarian shows how she is able to search her local library direct from Facebook. Now imagine that same search application gets social and you can see that a major evolution in how we mine the web with friends is coming soon.

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