In case you missed the excellent run down on this significant new source of data in Bing.com’s search results, you should read the full article on Search Engine Land, here. (done? good.) Search engines always add new data sources as they can find them, index them and somehow weight them in the search results algorithm to deliver what people expect, what they want and what they need. The biggest shift at one point was adding Click Thru Rates into the search results algorithm (remember Direct Hit?). The later on got acquired for a very large amount of money by Ask Jeeves (now ask, now just a q&a site rather than full bore algorithmic search engine since they began outsourcing their editorial listings). Google has their own secret sauce, PageRank, which prohibited any other company from licensing the same patent from Stanford, per their filings years ago, until the year 2011. It could be that in today’s search centric world, the link graph is secondary to the social graph.
However, the news has yet to pick up on Bing, Facebook, Apple or Blekko saying they have also licensed the PageRank algorithm from Stanford University. Until the news media outlets talk about this issue, I’m half convinced that the social graph as greater than link graph debate is just a smoke an mirrors distraction from the “real issue” that Bing needs to address. Indexing volume. Sure, they put out (when they fist launched live) they had 5 billion documents…then Google said they had 8 billion documents, nearly that same week. If you dug deeply enough (this was 2004, btw, for those keeping score at home) you could have seen that the majority of the indexing Live Search had done was “YST” + something, where Yahoo Search Technology was the rebrand of Inktomi, following the 2003 purchase by Yahoo.
Are we experiencing more search driven serendipity now?
I’d argue we are, in spades. However it’s increasingly difficult to point to one box as my “Oracle at Delphi” choice. I’m using maps, I’m using Google + Bing, I’m using Twitter, I’m using Facebook, I’m using Youtube – all in an effort to find something meaningful. When traveling, or considering, I’m using TripAdvisor. When shopping, if it’s something that Craigslist has deep listings of, I’m there – if I’m shopping for digital content, I’m using more Amazon than Barnes & Noble, despite publishing novellas on both platforms. (Sidebar: if you poll 100 authors, none will get the same results on Amazon, or Barnes & Noble….and while Amazon has the lead in many metrics, B&N isn’t down or out, by a long shot). For apps, since i have an Iphone, I’m stuck in the Iworld. If I consider how much searching, across so many sites, that I do on a regular basis – then yes, I experience a greater and greater amount of serendipity. Even our search on FunAdvice, powered by Lucene / Solr, delivers a fair amount of serendipity if you know how to work it. Unfortunately, the marketing of the last ten years has led to a growing hubris by the establishment in media, demanding that the “one box” vision and dream fulfill our collective cultural want of an Oracle at Delphi.
To me, the future lies within not one Oracle but many and with that in mind, the business winner isn’t the one who delivers the best one box, but the company that delivers a well positioned, branded, vertical experience. This might seem like a deja vu driven rant for those that, like me, remember when Lycos, Altavista, Infoseek and Excite were all valid search players and Google was a geek’s special secret. However, the only apt comparison that makes sense online with web content, deep consumer experiences and that serendipity we all crave is that of the television and TV Guide. How many networks can you think of right now? ABC, NBC, CBS, Showtime, HBO, HGTV, Syfy (worst rebranding ever, but I digress), Food.tv, The Cooking Channel…I’m sure I can name more but you get the idea. When I want content, brand affiliation and positioning have a lot to do with my decision, but, the *quality* of the experience also leaves something to be desired when you know the vertical, and the swiss army knife one box delivers a broad spectrum of results – some good, some bad, some on topic and some that need to be blocked right away.
Unfortunately, I may be in the minority when I look at my social circle and try to figure out what their tastes are good with, what their preferences are bad with and how I can benefit by those ethereal preferences color my own lens of the world. Online, studies have yet to prove the tried and true correlation of taste: if you have (for example) a penchant for exercise and healthy living, your friends are likely to, as well. In my experience though, those offline hobbies have yet to fully saturate online, where your friend circle isn’t just a representation of one aspect of your hobbies, but all of them. It’s a bold move and as Bing drives further down this path, it may ultimately force those of us who are living, breathing and reposting on their every move to in fact re-order our online experience to more closely mirror our offline preferences.