Yahoo!'s launch of My Web 2.0 brought newfound attention to "social search," but a small Seattle start-up wrote the book on the subject. Yahoo!, Yellow Pages companies, and others would be well advised to take a page out of Judy's Book, a self-described "local word of mouth community."
Chris DeVore, Judy's Book's chief operating officer and co-founder, alerted me about the word mark. What does it really mean though, and what does it mean for search?
Personally, I'd have come up with a different definition for social search than what's in the Judy's Book USPTO filing. My definition might focus more on the search itself, and not as much the format. Yet let's not nitpick. We're going to hear a lot more about social search going forward, as it's at the intersection of two very hot topics -- social networking and search.
Judy's Book first came to my attention thanks to public relations maven Jeremy Pepper, who sent me a column idea back in January. He wrote, "...The next round of search seems to be the merging of search with recommendations," and he cited JudysBook.com, along with Yelp.com and InsiderPages.com, as examples. It would be five months longer before Yahoo! released My Web 2.0 in beta mode, which it bills as "search, with a little help from your friends."
If you look at Judy's Book and Yahoo!'s My Web 2.0 side by side, it's like comparing a Middle Eastern bazaar to a falafel cart - and the search giant is the street corner vendor here. There's just not that much going on with My Web. You can import bookmarks (which I had some trouble with) or add pages manually, annotating the links with comments and adding tags. You can then search your network for pages, either via a search box or by browsing tabs, and you can also surf the broader network of My Web 2.0 users who choose to make their links public.
This is a step in the right direction, one that incorporates the Yahoo! 360 social network and adds a new twist to it. But it doesn't seem to provide much value.
Judy's Book instead encourages user-generated content in terms of recommendations, blog entries, and networking groups, all of which focus on local communities. For an example of the searchable content, typing "Chinese food" into the search box brings up an article on breast feeding, book reviews, restaurant reviews, product reviews, and travel recommendations. Judy's Book is most useful in helping answer the types of questions you might pose to a friend, but you can't think who to ask or you want a second opinion.
What's most interesting in talking with Chris DeVore is that he speaks of Judy's Book in terms of the technology, but the site feels like an intimate gathering of people at a rotary club or sewing circle. Fittingly, the connection of relationships and technology is a favorite topic of DeVore's.
"Human beings use relationships as a proxy for doing their own research all the time," said DeVore. "You don't have time to figure out who's the best doctor or what's the best Web site... The ability to do that online or through technology is an obvious next step for using technology to wade through a lot of information in a hurry."
A key driver for Judy's Book is making implicit knowledge explicit. For instance, people have their favorite doctors and sushi chefs and bars and places to take the kids on rainy Sundays, but people don't inherently share all this. Judy's Book uses blogging-type tools, surveys, and community features to encourage the sharing of this implicit knowledge. And when the knowledge is shared, it can be searched.
We're still early on the development of social search - so early that it's hard to define what it is. Yet Judy's Book holds a trademark, and Yahoo! released a "social search engine," so it's a matter of time before we come to better understand the concept and what it can do.
These are questions we can all seek to answer together.