Google, a company that has built its success in search on the back of a superior search algorithm, is looking to humans as it makes search a bit more social with the launch of SearchWiki.
As per the Official Google Blog, SearchWiki is:
"...a way for you to customize search by re-ranking, deleting, adding, and commenting on search results. With just a single click you can move the results you like to the top or add a new site. You can also write notes attached to a particular site and remove results that you don't feel belong. These modifications will be shown to you every time you do the same search in the future. SearchWiki is available to signed-in Google users. We store your changes in your Google Account."
The changes you make to your search results via SearchWiki only affect your results (not those of other Google users) but you are permitted to view the search results that have been edited by the "community" if you're interested in doing so.
Google believes that SearchWiki is "another step along the way" as it looks to improve upon the Google search experience.
But is it? That really depends on who you are and how you use search.
Google established itself in the market by building a no-nonsense search engine that did one thing and did it well - help users find the information they're looking for online in a fast and effective manner.
Today, I think the bulk of those who use Google are still looking for that very thing. If I search for "internet marketing research," my goal is to find relevant, high-quality websites that will provide me with "internet marketing research" (like - shameless plug - Econsultancy.com).
My goal is to find the information I'm looking for - not to spend time interacting with the search results themselves. After all, Google should hope that it's providing search results that users don't feel the need to change too much because they're already relevant.
On the other hand, arguing that Google should never change its search experience just because it's been so successful up to now isn't entirely sensible. It should look for ways to improve the search experience and add value.
We have seen a lot of interest on the supply side for "social search engines" (for quite some time) and although few consumers have flocked to them, it's unclear as to whether that's because the concept itself is unappealing or because acquiring marketshare for search upstarts is so difficult to begin with.
Based on comments made earlier this year by Google's Marissa Mayer, it seems that Google believes it's the latter.
At the end of the day, I don't think SearchWiki will necessarily harm Google even if the product itself fails to gain traction provided, of course, that Google ensures that those who want to use Google 1.0 without any intrusion of SearchWiki (no matter how minor) can still do so.
Unfortunately, TechCrunch's Michael Arrington, who isn't a fan of SearchWiki, claims that he is unable to turn SearchWiki off. I too didn't see an obvious way to turn SearchWiki off either. This is a problem.
Another major problem Google is likely to face with SearchWiki - spam. The ability to "comment" on search results is likely to attract spammers, even if their spam comments are only viewed by a sliver of Google's total audience. Additionally, there's the risk of "competitor abuse" in which companies use SearchWiki to direct users to their websites by leaving dishonest or disparaging remarks about their competitors' search results.
Quite clearly, Google will need to deal with issues like these if SearchWiki is to become a potentially useful "option" and not an "annoyance."
But as someone who has been very critical of Google and all of its "pet projects" that have nothing to do with its core business, I will say that, sink or swim, it's nice to see the company doing something with the little old search engine that got it to where it is today.
Related Econsultancy training events:
Online Reputation Management - London, 9th December
SEO - London, 10th December
Online PR - London, 20th January