Friday, March 4, 2011

You are a human search engine (redux)

Check out this succinct, well-written piece by John Byrne, previously Editor-in-Chief of Business Week:

The consequences of us being human search engines are that networks like twitter are winning over engines like google.

Why is this?

Well, Twitter understands that their utility comes from a mix of human and cyber elements - to make one bigger, better algorithm.

Google....well, I bet google understands it too. They just have not put together a social / search offering that has caught fire in the last few years. (Google Buzz, anyone? Google Wave? Hello?...Anyone there?....)

It was unthinkable a few years ago that google might lose it's footing. Just as it's unthinkable now that facebook may falter in the future. But such is the way of things. For now, google remains megalithic. Let's see if they can stay that way.

Monday, February 14, 2011

You are a human search engine.

You are a human search engine. You have your own unique index, algorithm, and media brand. Moreover, so do I, and so does everyone we know. We are the emerging media brands of the future. If this is making no sense to you at all, try a thought experiment:

Imagine you want to find out where the best Belgian beer is served in your city. (Maybe you don't have to imagine too hard.) Maybe you turn to google. Maybe Yelp, or even Foursquare. But if you're any kind of social animal, you'll likely know a real beer 'enthusiast' who has done the research already. Whose opinion on beer-related matters you trust. Who has the best three options on the tip of their tongue when you ask them.

This person - we'll call them 'Amanda' - is behaving like a search engine, with a particularly effective index for local beer-related searches. Amanda is your go-to walking talking search engine on all things "Belgian Beer". Which is totally great.

But ask Amanda a question on another subject and the results are very different. Amanda has no interest in fashion. So when you want somewhere to get designer remnants cheap, she has no "index" of sources, no "algorithm" to compute what best fits your needs. You need to ask someone else. Someone with a great index of bargain outlets. We'll call this person Joe - another walking search engine.

And in this case, you are also acting like a search engine. When you determine to ask Joe, Amanda, or anyone else for advice, you're using your own search 'algorithm'. You factor in each social contacts' relevancy and popularity in relation to your query, before identifying the most likely source of the information you want.

Now, humankind has used these instinctive indexing and algorithmic activities for as long as we've had humankind. So - why is this such a big deal now? Because we are at the advent of social and search platforms (like 'Live Search') that combine, and amplify, human and artificial search capabilities.

This will accelerate huge changes in how we conceive media. In his excellent piece 'media after the site', Jeff Jarvis outlines his thesis on what media will become:

“What does the post-page, post-site, post-media media world look like? @stephenfry, that’s what... He comes to us. We distribute him. He has been introduced to and acquired new fans. He now has a million followers, surely more than for any old web site of his. He did it by his wit(s) alone. His product is his ad, his readers his agency. He is media with no need for media.”

It's not that people as emergent media brands need to be already-famous personalities - rather, our personal brand reach is driven by our reputation. Reputation is all any media brand really has left when the means of gathering and distributing information are no longer differentiators. And our reputation is driven by the quality of what we post - on blogs, networks, micro-blogs, etc.

We're entering an era where you buy reach with brains - not just dollars.