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A Search Greater Than Google

by Blogger ‎09-29-2009 10:13 AM - edited ‎09-29-2009 10:16 AM

Perhaps Jason Calacanis is on to something.

About 2 years ago, the internet startup star launched something he called a "human powered search engine."  Mahalo would have it's search results catalogued by people.  

Mahalo employs guides that curate search results and manage remote Greenhouse workers from its offices in Santa Monica, California.The public actively participates in building content by suggesting links, creating user-generated "stubs" (short search results pages), and building pages for pay in the Mahalo Greenhouse.

It's that same human powered search that is allowing Twitter, Foursquare, Yelp and a little thing called GPS to change the way search is conductedand the real time
information on the go they create blows Google off the map.

I found myself in San Francisco last weekend.  After a busy morning shopping Market St, I was hungry for some good eats.  Not familiar with the area, I fired up my iPhone and logged in to Foursquare.

Foursquare is positioned as a social "game" where people "check in" to various places throughout the day.  Check in to Starbucks, Check in to your desk, Check in to the mall etc.  The point is to allow friend to track your whereabouts the same way Twitter tracks our consciousness with little tweets.  Foursquare allows you to find and follow your friends throughout the day.  In addition to checking in, you're encouraged to add tips about the places you visit. Insider tips that will allow others checking in to the place to avoid the tuna sandwich and dig in to the fabulous clam chowder.

When I launched Foursquare in San Francisco, the Location Services on my iPhone tagged my location and immediately served up tips and things to do that users had put on Foursquare for others to find.  Instantly, despite being 1200 kilometres from home, I was a local that could find Neeto's Cafe, a classic old breakfast joint around the corner and down a dark alley.  I knew to order the Clam Chowder and Anchor Steam at Swan's and where the shortcut between Westfield and the Apple Store was.

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Foursquare is also linked to Yelp which deepens the information vat.  Yelp is a site where people review restaurants and services.  You've probably used Trip Advisor to look up reviews of hotels when you plan a vacation, Yelp works the same way for local restaurants.  It will also work the same way Foursquare does.  Launch the app when you're in an unfamiliar area and it will dig up reviews of restaurants in your immediate area.  I used it to find Villa Corona, an authentic mexican restaurant tucked around the back side of a mall when I was in Napa.  I was 6 kilometres away, but Yelp found what I was looking for, served up dozens of reviews hailing the place's authenticity and then gave me directions.

This is human powered search at it's finest.  You can do the same thing with Twitter, but the real time advice you receive there depends on who's following you when and whether or not your question is easily answerable by those paying attention at that time.  I often use Twitter when I'm hacking the code on my blogs.  I have a wide group of geeks who follow my stream, so I know CSS hacks will be solved instantly by the human powered search engine of my followers.

While these discoveries are eternally effective and useful, human powered search can also be frutstrating.  The longer the site has been around collecting data, the better it can solve your problems.

That's why Twitter is frustrating at first.  Unless you have a long list of conversations to follow, you feel like the first one at a party with nobody to talk to.

Foursquare has just launched in the past month in Vancouver and many logging in are finding a blank canvas of information.  It's hard to "get" when there isn't a lot to discover.  But the wisdom of the crowds will eventually surface as more people try the out the app, input data and share experiences.  That's the key to the human powered search engines: shared experiences.   Sure you can use Google to find out how old the Golden Gate Bridge is, but launch your iPhone apps when you're nearby and you'll get directions to the secret spot to take the best photos.

Given time, real time human powered search is greater than Google.


catch the buzz ... pass it on.

Message Edited by buzzbishop on 09-29-2009 10:16 AM

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