Magazine article Marketing

Andrew Walmsley on Digital: Time for a Q&A Session

Magazine article Marketing

Andrew Walmsley on Digital: Time for a Q&A Session

Article excerpt

When search engines don't give you the answer you're looking for, social search just might.

The fantastic thing about search is the ability it gives us to interrogate billions of pages of content in a fraction of a second. Ten years ago, the US Consumer Daily Question Study recorded that search engines had overtaken friends, family and neighbours as the number-one resource being used for getting answers to questions. Today, the average Briton searches more frequently than they drink tea.

The greatest strength of search, though, is also its greatest weakness Whether you're searching on Google, MSN, Yahoo! or even WolframAlpha, the only information you can find is stored on computers.

That presents two problems. First, the information might simply not be there. Second, it could be in a format that is not useful to your query.

Wouldn't it be useful if you could search what's in people's heads? More particularly, wouldn't it be useful if you could search the brains of people who know the answer to your question?

This is the fundamental principle of social search. Out there, there's bound to be someone who does know the answer. And, since the most powerful effect of the internet is to connect people to each other, the web can connect you to an answer.

This was the principle that led to the creation in 2005 of Yahoo! Answers, where users can post questions. Within hours, experts from around the world post answers on anything from alternators to zoetropes Readers then score the answers, and the best rise to the top, creating a vast resource of information.

How can a vegetarian get more protein in her diet? Yahoo! Answers returns a simple 'beans and legumes'.

Recently, however, there has been a surge in activity in the social search sector. Facebook and Twitter are often employed as search engines, as users pose questions to friends. These aren't just trivia: Twitter users are posing some of life's most important questions. Shamara99 wants to know 'what r signs of 'he's just not that into u''.

Shamara99 is being followed by 2758 people, who pitch enthusiastically into the fray. 'He won't respond to ur msgs,' one says. 'I think RT If you don't know NONE of his boys or family, he's not into u,' another advises.

It's hard to tell how useful these answers are to Shamara99. Enthusiastic though her responders undoubtedly are, there are no means by which one can qualify their expertise in this topic area. …

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