Almost two years ago, one of our engineers was interested in buying a plasma TV and tried using web search to find a good site for reviews --- a quick search revealed that there were hundreds of sites offering to educate him on plasma TVs, yet short of visiting all the sites, it was difficult to figure out which site exactly was the 'best' site. So he did what millions of people do every day – asked a friend, who recommended two excellent sites for plasma TV reviews. He never ended up buying a TV (things just got too busy with search), but this was the moment of inspiration that lead us to build the product we are introducing today – a social search engine that enables people to search the expertise of their friends and community.
The Limits of Web Search
After years of development, and especially since the introduction of link counting and anchor text, web search has gotten amazingly powerful in its ability to surface nearly any kind of information within the billions of pages that comprise the web. However, as powerful and large as today's web search engines are, they are still limited in their ability to deliver key services to their users including:
- Answering "opinion" queries – The definition of the best plasma TV review site, best dry cleaner in Palo Alto, CA, or most useful source for information on skin cancer depends on a user's tastes as well the opinions and recommendations of the friends and authorities they trust. Web search engines don't have the ability to deliver the right answer because they don't always capture the trusted and valued sources for that user.
- Personal results – The answer a web search engine delivers is what it believes is the correct answer for the majority of users – often referred to as "the tyranny of the majority". For example, when you search for 'apple', the first result on most search engines is Apple Computer. But you may have been searching for information about the fruit or Apple Records.
- Serendipity – Today's search engines can deliver great results, especially with very specific queries, but typically do a poor job of connecting you with new items that might be interesting, timely, and personally relevant. Your friends and people who share common interests with you are better sources for this information.
Introducing Social Search
To address these kinds of limits of today's search experience, we are releasing an early beta version of My Web 2.0 for a limited number of users. It is a new kind of search engine – a social search engine – that complements web search by enabling users to search the knowledge and expertise of their friends and community in addition to the web. Here's some of what we think is interesting about My Web 2.0:
- The trusted web – Anyone can save, tag, and share knowledge with their community. Any page on the web with your comments and insights. Your community can do the same. The result – a new search experience that combines web search with what your trusted community has tagged and shared. Users can build their community by inviting their contacts via email or by importing existing social relationships from Yahoo! Address Book, Messenger, or their 360° community. My Web 2.0 then leverages the Yahoo! 360° personal network platform to enable people to manage their search community.
- Personalized search – My Web 2.0 is powered by Yahoo!'s new MyRank Search Technology, which provides personalized search results based on the shared knowledge of the people they trust. Personalized search is also supported by our My Search History capability, (launched in My Web 1.0 ). Over time, you will see us integrate MyRank technology across other Yahoo! applications and services.
- Control over what is shared and with whom – Each page saved and tagged can be shared with the world, just with friends and their friends, or kept private.
- Structured tagging – The internet is about much more than web pages – key dimensions like time and location can be as important as the content itself. With user-provided structured tags like "geo:[location]" applied to pages, search results can now can include maps to locations in addition to the web page.
- Open APIs - Through the use of My Web 2.0's XML and RDF APIs , a whole host of new applications can be built – like what the folks in the Stanford University TAP project are working on.
How Is Social Search Different?
Social search complements web search, which is driven by publishers and web sites, by providing a better search experience that is powered by people and communities. Flickr is a great example of this power applied to photos and image search.
Much like links and anchor text enabled major improvements in web search by becoming a new source of authority for search engines, people and trust networks are now an additional source of authority for social search engines. In the same way that blogs and RSS are empowering individuals to participate in publishing, individuals and communities can now participate in search, using tools like My Web 2.0 that let them define what is valuable to them and their community.
Over time, we envision communities using My Web to build their own search engines to capture and make accessible the knowledge of their community – search engines populated with the collective experience of a group of medical researchers, a community of PHP experts, a bird watching club, or members of a structural engineering consulting firm.
More to Come…
My Web 2.0 is still very early in its development. To keep you abreast of how My Web will evolve, we decided that since it's a social search engine it needed its own blog and My Web blog to learn more about what's coming next.
In the meantime, if you would like to see any other new features, please let us know, and we encourage you to share your thoughts on the My Web discussion group.
David Ku, PhD, Technical Yahoo!, Search
Eckart Walther, VP Product Management, Search
And the Yahoo! Search team