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Social Discovery Is Pushing Search and Social Closer

Social discovery will remake the Internet, or at least how we plumb it. Need evidence? Persistent rumors of a Facebook search engine, Google‘s efforts to integrate Google+ into its search results and Microsoft’s addition of Facebook tagging into Bing results. 

(This is Part 2 in a series of articles about social discovery. You can read Part 1 here.)

Social discovery is philosophy of online search that holds that people are more likely to accept a friend’s opinion or advice than that of a general crowd or a search algorithm. Having been built on algorithms, Google and Bing are looking for ways to include social discovery in their traditional search results.

“We know that most people trust peer recommendations over advertisements, and about 25% of search results for the world’s top 20 largest brands are linked to user-generated content,” said Jennifer Peck, director of engagement at Banjo, maker of a social-discovery app that shows people’s social profiles based on their location.

“Searching the Internet for [Olympic swimmer] Ryan Lochte, for instance, will pull up lots of content,” said Peck. But along with the undiferentiated mass of data will be “the latest photos and posts coming straight out of London from thousands of fans who are updating their Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Path [accounts]? Surely,” she said, “The latter is more relevant.”

Social Search Is the Web’s New Disruptor

Nearly two years ago, executives at Gigya, which has provided online social tools to ABC, Pepsi, and Verizon, noticed a dramatic shift in how people found their clients’ sites. More people were landing via social networks. In some cases, traffic driven by Twitter and Facebook eclipsed traffic coming from Google, according to chief executive Patrick Salyer.

“User behavior has been changing ever since, and search engines are changing to recognize this trend,” Salyer said.

Since then, there has been a shake up of the Internet, particularly when it comes to content. The Washington Post, once seen as an old-line media company that understood online culture better than many of its peers, watched as traffic to the Huffington Post surpassed its own. The Post had a new rival, and almost solely because HuffPo better understood social discovery’s relationship to search.

“In many ways, [social discovery] is similar to how SEO works, except there are so many more competing technologies and ways to analyze the patterns,” Salyer said. 

Wisdom of the Crowds

Much of the push to make everything sharable and social revolves around a rethinking of how we search for things on the Internet, and Bing may be a step ahead of Google. 

I signed into Bing using my Facebook account to search for “Boston Marathon training plan,” and I got a fairly standard page of results. But Bing has added an element on the right that shows me Facebook friends who, based on their Facebook posts, might be able to answer my question.

Indeed, three of the five people displayed have run the Boston Marathon at least once, and one coaches charity runners. The fourth person lives in Boston and recently started running, and the fifth is a chef in Boston whose restaurant ran a marathon-day special. Not bad.

“Activity on social networks has increased significantly in the last 12 to 18 months. Search engines are in the business of information retrieval, and so the thinking for them went that, increasingly, there was relevant information to be retrieved from the social networks,” said Nathan Safran, research director at SEO technology maker Conductor. “Also working to the search engines’ advantage is that consumers still turn to search overwhelmingly more frequently and in more information-retrieval scenarios than social, and that is a trend that they want to maintain. Rolling social into search hedges their bets.”

Google doesn’t dig as deep into my friends’ social-media profiles, mainly because it is still trying to push Google+ results. Inclusion of Facebook content has been slow. Most of the people interviewed for this article expect that to change. 

“I think Google will eventually include more social information in its search results,” Salyer said. “Businesses are really configuring the way their sites work to adapt to social.”

ReadWriteWeb’s Dave Copeland will be speaking at the SocialDiscovery.org’s next Social Discovery Conference on Aug. 6-7 at the Fairmont San Francisco. ReadWriteWeb readers can get a discount of more than $1,000 if they register by August 3.

For more on social discovery, see Hooked Media Group Uses Social Discovery to Fine-Tune Game Recommendations.

About ReadWrite’s Editorial Process

The ReadWrite Editorial policy involves closely monitoring the tech industry for major developments, new product launches, AI breakthroughs, video game releases and other newsworthy events. Editors assign relevant stories to staff writers or freelance contributors with expertise in each particular topic area. Before publication, articles go through a rigorous round of editing for accuracy, clarity, and to ensure adherence to ReadWrite's style guidelines.

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