How To Use Friends To Influence People's Search: Next Generation Engine Exploits Social Networking

by , Jan 21, 2004, 12:00 AM
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In what is being touted as the next generation of Internet search, an ambitious developer with financial backing from NBC and an alliance with Yahoo!'s Overture unit today will unveil a service that fuses a conventional search engine with a social networking mechanism. The new service, dubbed Eurekster, is powered by the same technology used by social networking sites. Think Friendster meets Google.

The initiative, which has been beta testing for several months, is the combined effort of search technology solutions provider SLI Systems, and RealContacts, an employment/social networking services platform.

The social networking technology incorporated in the Eurekster search engine will give users personalized search results based on the search behaviors of their friends and colleagues. By continuously tracking this search behavior, Eurekster essentially builds a comprehensive directory of items for the user to search based on the actions of the user's community of friends. Also, when a user searches for a term that his or her friends have also searched and found results for, the most popular results will be displayed first. As such, each user's Eurekster search results and personalized directory is unique to his or her community, and remains private.

Eurekster will offer commercial and non-commercial search results provided by Yahoo! subsidiary Overture. So far, only the "natural" search results a user clicks on are added to the list of sites recently visited by the user's community of friends. "The current version of the product offers no re-ranking of sponsored search results," notes Steven Marder, Chairman, Eurekster Inc.

Grant Ryan, CEO, Eurekster, notes that the service is a technological extension of the phenomenon of viral proliferation by word of mouth: "Eurekster is a natural extension of our everyday behavior because we all rely on word of mouth to filter and share information."

Ryan contends that today's consumer is more acutely specialized. "Users no longer want search results generated by distant, unfamiliar entities," he affirms. "They want a search engine that provides results and destinations that matter most to them and their friends."

Eurekster will generate revenue from the sponsored search listings that will appear at the top of the results page in a designated section. At the time of launch, the search engine will not re-rank sponsored listings, nor will sponsored listings appear in a user's directory. But Ryan and Marder both agree that this is more than a probability for the future.

Should Eurekster really catch on with consumers, and the technology to re-rank and add sponsored listings to user's directories be implemented, the real estate at the top of Eurekster's sponsored listings section will go up very quickly; imagine if the listing you paid for was clicked on by a user and featured prominently in the recent search directory of every one of that user's friends and colleagues. That would be like pasting your link onto hundreds of affiliate sites for free. As Marder notes, "This new service will generate revenues immediately; its growth potential is exponential." Marder also notes that while their competitors will be search engines like Google and social networking sites like Friendster and Tribe.net, "we're really intersecting two channels, so there's an opportunity here to look to our competitors for potential partnerships."

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