This post is the second in a series reporting the key learnings from my recent #NoSearch project, where I went two months without using an internet search engine.
Social networks enable us to share and find information like never before. We can research, ask friends and carry out polls in minutes. It’s a tangible demonstration of the direction in which society is headed due to the evolution of the web; a form of collective intelligence where we become better informed and make better choices as a result. At least, that’s the theory – whether or not this is the case is probably open to debate. But what I can say having completed the #NoSearch project, is that those using social media effectively have learned how to harness collective intelligence and community.
In fact, without realising it, what these people have done is to build their own ‘personal search engine’. And rather than relying on software algorithms, spiders and SEO gaming, it relies on human knowledge, experience, intellect and context. That’s something that no search engine will ever replicate, whether or not the semantic web ever truly becomes reality. When I took a step back from search for a few weeks, what I started to see astounded me. We have absolute blind faith in search engine results and we virtually never question whether what Bing or Yahoo! is showing us is most relevant to what we want. We quite simply trust that search engines give us back the best results. Google has become something of a cult to which we have unquestioning devotion. And this gives it immense power over you and me and the way we perceive the world. And, arguably, responsibility.
One of my key learnings from #NoSearch is that, despite the frustration of the time it takes to look information up without Google or ask questions of your network, the quality of the information that you find when you put that time in is often far superior. And for me, how I find out information has probably changed for good. For expediency, geographic or personal issues, search engines do the job well. But for queries where I don’t need an instant answer, where intricate local knowledge is necessary or where it’s not just too personal, I’ll be continuing, at least in part, to use my personal network as a search engine. And I’m far from alone. A recent McKinsey study suggested that one in three people now use social media to help navigate the web.
Despite what you may initially feel, the key to building an effective personal search engine and harnessing community intelligence is not to garner a large network of connections. From my experience of this issue, everyone has a tolerance level above which the larger your network becomes, the less value you gain from it. Rather, the key is to focus in on the Dunbar’s number of people who you trust and respect; those people from whom you gain maximum value. As with much else in life, relevance is all-important. Do this and you’ll build a community of people around you that gives you access to information on the web like no search engine ever could.
Part three of this series will look at how search engines are changing human behaviour and at the potential impact of social search on SEO.
Like This Post? Subscribe to TheSocialWeb