Semantic search engine Hakia has just released a new social networking feature, called Meet Others (MO). The basic idea is to "meet others" who asked the same query. This is something I've never seen in a search engine before - and actually I'm not convinced that social networking is a good fit with search. But let's take a look at how this works, using an example provided to us by Hakia:
1. You ask a query and then receive your search results:
2. You will see an icon in the top-right of search results that says "Meet Others who asked the same query". If you click on the button, you enter into a room (if the room exists) of people who have a) asked the same or similar query; and b) decided to post a message to the room.
3. You can either post a message or contact someone who has already posted a message. To post, you only need to authenticate your email address - there is no other personal info or registration required. You can choose the method you'd like to be contacted: via email (which is masked), or IM (Skype of MSN). So if a user has IM contact enabled, you can start chatting with that person with one click.
There is a voting system too, which together with message age determines how long messages stay in the room for.
Hakia MO kind of resembles Yahoo! Answers, in that you are basically asking a question and then getting feedback from other users. However Hakia points out that MO is not a collaborative search result voting system. They are calling MO a "peer-to-peer transactional platform". Rather than Yahoo! Answers, Hakia says that MO most resembles Craigslist - because "users post content and there are no registration requirements."
In evaluating Hakia HO, I'm in two minds about the usefulness of social networking in a search engine. On one hand, it enables you to join groups of like-minded users in a very specific topic. I'm a big Velvet Underground fan for example, so if I search for "velvet underground" then it might be useful and/or enjoyable for me to join a "room" full of VU fans and begin conversations.
On the other hand, social networking is not something I am usually looking for in a search engine. I use search engines to gather information - in and out. Once I get what I came for, I'm outa there. So, will enough users join topic-focused rooms to make Hakia's MO a compelling feature?
I guess we'll find out, but it's an open question worth seeing the results of. Google would probably be very interested to see if they can integrate social networking into their search homepage, given their new OpenSocial APIs. Although, Hakia says they have a patent application on MO - so maybe Google won't be able to do it anyway!
What do you think: do search and social networking go together? Or should they be kept separate?
Disclosure: Hakia is a sponsor of our network blog AltSearchEngines and recently they signed up as a Read/WriteWeb sponsor for November.