Check out Jim Hoggan, president of Hoggan & Associates on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow’s show last night. Jim is on the show in his role as the co-founder of Hoggan’s award-winning project DeSmogBlog, and author of the book Climate Cover Up: the crusade to deny global warming,
Finding good information on the web can be pretty frustrating.
Google, of course, has made this a lot easier but even then you regularly find that searches can go completely wonky.
Wonkiness aside, for the vast majority us Google is our first search.
With Google relevance is determined by a machine, directed by a long and complicated algorithm that takes into account all sorts of things like website meta-data, back-links, geographic location and so on. While the search results are usually pretty good it is clear that there is no conscious being on the other end sorting the nonsense from the relevant. It would be inconceivable that there ever would be anyone on the other end of a Google search given the fact that over a million searches are executed a day on the platform.
Microsoft and their Google-alternative, Bing are trying to capitalize on this, but quite frankly Bing just isn’t that much different – it’s still using a machine, directed by a complicated algorithm to find what we’re looking for online. Bing does have some pretty funny ad campaigns, but it’s going to take more than howling monkey people to unseat Google from its search dominance.
So what’s a better source of online information than these search machines? Who do we trust? Our friends of course, but looking to them to somehow offer up the best information on any given topic has its own set of challenges.
For instance, not all of our friends are online and those who are online and offering thoughts, opinions, recommendations and information are not all doing it in the same place. Some might be on Twitter, others on their own blog, instant messaging, forums or whatever else. And last time we checked, our collective group of friends are definitely not experts in everything we seek information on.
Information may be a little more scarce and hard to gather from our online friends, but at least the information we do receive from our friends has a certain level of built-in accountability.
So is this idea of social search the way to go when it comes to finding the best information on a given subject? Can we trust “the crowd” more than the machine?
We did a bit of poking around on the state of social search as it stands today.
The test case for our experiment was to find the best Lasik clinic in Vancouver, Canada.
First up, the machine.
Googling: “lasik clinic vancouver”, not surprisingly, spits out a list of Lasik eye clinics in Vancouver. Helpful, for sure, but the decision by Google as to which clinic is listed first does not necessarily translate into it being the best Lasik clinic in Vancouver.
We used a great tool called SEO Quake, to provide some insight into why Google chose the sites it did. Turns out that the top results are the Lasik clinics websites that have most links.
The ‘Google assumption’ is that the most relevant sites are those most linked to and therefore the most talked about. Links into a site kind of work like votes for Google. The Google machine, however, has a very limited ability to judge the nature of these votes. Why are people talking about these clinics more than others? Are they impressed or are they ticked? Are the voters employed by these companies and put up to it? We simply can’t tell by Google results alone.
Next we tried Aardvark, an online service calling itself a “social search service.” to get an opinion from our online network of friends. Aardvark attempts to get an answer to your question from a person(s) in your network who has ‘interests’ in the topic. In our case, Aardvark failed to find such an person. But even if Aardvark had succeeded, why would we trust that person? Exactly what is the person’s ‘interest’ in the topic ?
Next, Tim seeded the question on Facebook and received a reply from a friend who had Lasik surgery done and was very happy with the results and service she received. While he highly values her input, at the same time it is only a single opinion. If there was only a way to tap all your friends’ collective thoughts on a given subject.
There will always be a place for machine-based searches, unless of course your friends can answer questions like: “What is the significance of black body radition in the field of Quantum Mechanics. But an effective automated system that can gather up all your friends opinions, thoughts and recommendations and index them in a way that can answer your questions, would be a very powerful threat to Google.
Just how much of threat comes down to the fundamental question of whether you trust your friends more than the machine when it comes to finding the best information online.
If enough people trust friends more than the machine, then Facebook is probably the online platform best positioned to develop such a robust social search service, given that it has the critical mass, the connectivity within it’s own platform, as well as across other platforms via Facebook Connect.
Easier said than done, but if you’re looking for the real competition when it comes to multi-billion dollar online search market (and you trust your friends), then forget the company building the better machine and look out for the genius who figures out to embrace the collective wisdom of the crowd.
A big part of our social media team last year was on a global campaign called TckTckTck.
It was announced last week that the project will receive a Game Changer Award at the We Media innovation conference.
TckTckTck was a worldwide open-source campaign that brought together the most prominent members of civil society to call for a fair, ambitious and binding international climate change treaty at the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference held in Copenhagen, Denmark.
We were fortunate enough to be asked by the lead digital strategist, Jason Mogus and his company Communicopia, to come in and organize the social media outreach, online marketing and stakeholder engagement for the project.
This was a very challenging and very important project and a lot talented people came together to make it happen. While none of us were involved in TckTckTck to win awards, a little recognition is always nice to get!
Some of the things that made TckTckTck a Game Changer, according to We Media, were:
- Our open source shared brand, TckTckTck (created by one of our partners’ ad firm), that was everywhere in Copenhagen
- The way we re-framed climate change from an environmental issue to a justice and development one
- How we got hundreds of “big brand” NGO partners to deeply collaborate, on strategies and actions, more than ever seen before
- The huge success of our global aggregation petition, with over 15M people from around the world signing on
- The innovative web tools we created to grow the petition and spread the word, including Facebook apps, mobile apps, widgets, and other distributed tools
- The way we used and empowered alternative media channels – specifically bloggers – to help spread our messages
- The Fresh Air Centre in Copenhagen, which was in many ways the culmination of many of our strategies in one physical media space
This is an updated version of Facebook users map broken down by province. I do have a hi-res version if anyone wants to use it, just send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here’s what the Hoggan Social Media team is keeping an eye on this week:
MySpace is talking about it’s future. This one is interesting because we’ve been watching Facebook really eat into MySpace’s audience over the last few years and this has left a lot of people scratching their heads when it comes to figuring out where MySpace fits in the social media sphere.
Bing – Microsoft’s answer to Google – has launched a funny new ad campaign in the UK. Not a big story in and of itself, but it’s always interesting to see where Microsoft will go next in this rather hopeless attempt to reign in the search engine supreme master.
Here’s the ad:
SXSW Interactive gets underway this Friday in Austen, Texas. Pretty jealous of all those who found the time to go down. Watch for a whole bunch of “cool new social media tech” announcements coming out at SXSW.
Over the last two weeks I’ve been test driving the location-based local “Twitter-like” sensation, FourSquare. While I do see how this could be a very cool and engaging tool for specific campaigns and events (like SXSW Interactive), I am finding it pretty uninteresting as a day-to-day tool.
And finally, I am working on a lengthy column for Huffington Post Technology looking at the idea of social search and how Facebook might just be the next Google. I will cross-post it here.
This is an appearance from the show P3 that talks a bit about the concept of the Phillip Morris Theory of Global Warming. Enjoy:
An excerpt from Chapter 13 of my book “Do the Right Thing” Social Media: Moving From Confrontation to Conversation in an Age Redefined by the Internet
The emergence of alternative––and interactive––sources of media has forever changed the relationship that would-be communicators have with the ever-more-integrated “public.” Clumsy companies will find this new “social media” curiously resistant to traditional manipulation. Smart companies will find a new and liberating opportunity for a productive conversation with their most important stakeholders.
Social Media: Ending the Age of the One-Way Message
In this past revolutionary decade, Google, Wikipedia, Facebook, and Youtube, as well as blogs and all the other e-mail groups and Internet forums, have emerged as interactive alternatives to traditional media. These “social media” have made it impossible for any business––no matter how powerful––to dominate the news with a single, one-sided message. There are too many independent sources, too many checks and balances. In that light, honesty, sincerity, and transparency––which were always positive PR elements in a public conversation––are now more critical than ever.
World Wide Web-crawling: Finding Friends in Unlikely Places
In the recent past, companies and organizations had only two chances to reach out to the public: They could court media coverage (with its attendant risks) or they could advertise (often at huge expense). Today, a simple (and relatively inexpensive) website can make your point of view available directly to people in every corner of the world – with no worries about how that information will be “interpreted” by reporters. People won’t necessarily pay attention, but if something goes wrong (or something goes right) Google will bring the world to your door. Make sure you are ready.
Search Engine Marketing: Get Good Advice
It’s tempting to think that a beautiful website, alone, will bring the world to your door. But searchbots need help. For example, if your mission statement is embedded in a front page graphic, search engine software won’t be able to read it. So, if you want to be noticed, make sure that your website is designed and written in a way that is easily searched and indexed. Bear in mind too that this is an evolving specialty. You may have to engage an additional consultant to the one who builds your web page.
Finding an Authentic Voice: Speaking the Internet Lingo
The tone and nature of Internet conversation is quicker, more casual, and often more belligerent than in other business or media applications. So if you intervene online using a formal, corporate voice, you risk dismissal or derision. But be careful not to let the casual format lull you into carelessness. You may think you are speaking on a small blog to a bunch of kids, but you could easily hear those words quoted back to you in a boardroom––or in the New York Times. If you are on the Internet, you are on the record.
Honor Your Critics: They Could Become Your Best Friends
Any time you respond effectively to a customer’s complaint, you have an opportunity to build real loyalty. So honor your critics online. Listen for legitimate complaints and respond with temperance and good faith. This can be a challenge because the medium is littered with “trolls,” snarling vandals who take pleasure in getting people riled up for no reason. High-profile sites also attract the attention of trolls-for hire, people who do dirty work for the competition. Avoid the muck, assume most people who comment on your site are legitimate and you will find friends in the mix.
Keep an Ear to the Ground: Internet Drums Can Be Silent When Deadly
Every major corporation monitors mainstream media, but it’s tougher to keep track of the Internet. With millions of blogs addressing millions of issues, you never know when you might become the object of someone’s attention. Try to keep track. Stories originating on small blogs often find their way onto the blogs Daily Kos, Huffington Post, or the Drudge Report, reaching more people than the Wall Street Journal. And sometimes these stories won’t make the leap to mainstream. So someone should be watching, so you can see trouble coming and correct misinformation.
Reasons to Avoid Social Media: It’s a Black Hole Where Time Disappears
The Internet is brimming with opportunity––it’s full of applications that you might use to expand your customer base or your social network. But if some 25-year-old consultant tells you that you should sign up for Facebook, Friendfeed, Flickr, Twitter, LinkedIn, and MySpace, ask why. Each of these applications can consume large parts of your day––in little, hardly noticeable increments. Make sure that every online effort has a sensible and attainable strategic goal.
Reasons to Avoid Social Media: You Don’t Want to Be Dissed as a Tourist
Six weeks before the last election, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper had a website hot-buttoned to every new social media application available. But the PM himself was nowhere to be seen. There were no comments on Twitter. The “About Me” section was blank on MySpace and he had only six friends. His YouTube account linked to four, six month old videos. The result? What seemed like an effort to make it LOOK like the Prime Minister is hip to the Internet, demonstrated instead that he is NOT.