Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Flickr takes Yahoo Social: My Web 2.0

Well, along with everyone else on the small planet known as Silicon Valley, I've been wondering what Stewart, Caterina, and the Flickr folks have been up to since Yahoo bought them... since they certainly haven't been updating the Flickr interface ;-)

Today Tyler drops me an email saying "Check out Yahoo's new My Web 2.0, it's social search and it's cool." And lo and behold, who's writing the Y! Searchblog section for MyWeb but Caterina...

Damn, it is cool. It's delicious Yahoo search.

So what does this mean? Well, there are four fundamental ways to ways to determine relevance in search results. These are:

1) Market/collective/algorithmic - Call it the law of large numbers, the wisdom of crowds, or statistical truth, but PageRank and similar "hubs and authorities" algorithms figure out, on average, what everybody thinks of a given site.

2) Expert/editorial - Roger Ebert on movies. Julia Child on cooking. Henry Kissinger on diplomacy. They've spent a lifetime figuring out what is the best, and the'll tell you so. Yahoo's roots are in this sort of directory/taxonomy/recommendation based organization.

3) Personal - Based on the user's past history and demonstrated interests, give them results that most closely match their tendencies. Amazon's A9 is the best current example.

4) Social - Based not only on the user's past history and demonstrated interests, but on those of all the people they know. This is a fascinating middle ground (possible sweet spot?) in between personal and collective/algorithmic -- you've got enough critical mass of opinions on key topics to hopefully eliminate outliers, but you've got a close enough connection to the user that you can bend your results to match their point of view.

A note on tagging: Tagging doesn't change any of the above four categories. The voting mechanism -- bookmarking, visiting, linking, tagging, reviewing, whatever -- which is being rolled up in any of the above methods is entirely (OK, largely) independent of the method used. Flickr is all about tagging, but don't forget that they started out as a social network -- and that social sensibility is what they've brought to My Web 2.0.

Google and Yahoo are introducing products like two boxers standing toe to toe and punching. Google is throwing stunning roundhouse technologies like Foreman, shaking everyone's perception of what's possible whenever they land a punch. Yahoo is jabbing and dodging like Ali, clever sneaky punches that do a lot of damage but don't cause the crowd to Oooh in quite the same way.

Ali beat Foreman the second time they fought.

Update: John Markoff in the NYTimes is all over this. He gets the fact that we're talking about the re-creation of local media, too. The curtains just lifted on the future, folks, and the play is about to begin...

Update Update: Battelle, as usual, is all over this first. If you want any more proof that all of media is changing, the fact that his book *still* isn't published (all of, what, three months later?) drives him to asterisked profanity. And to answer John's implicit question, yes, communities of experts will emerge who will tag and organize for a living. They'll be the modern-day equivalents of Ebert, Child, and Kissinger - but they'll express their expertise not in books, columns, and Wall Street Journal op-eds, but tags, blogs, social networks, and other forms of relevance votes, connections, and organizations of information. tb

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