(disclaimer: this post is written using an iPhone and a crappy Internet connection from a sunny beach in Greece. It is bound to contain (spelling) errors 😉 )
I just read a good post by Alex Iskold about social search. Pagerank is currently the most relevant search algorithm, both in terms of delivering information and revenues. Finding the next ranking system is as much a quest for new relevancy as it is a treasure hunt.
Social Relevancy Ranking is a direction that sounds promising but also raises a lot of questions for me:
1. How will relevancy be determined? Robert Scoble is a great source for tech news, but can I trust him when it comes down to movie reviews, cooking pasta, or the theory of black holes? How can I, unbiased, determine who is an authority, or can be trusted? This is hard to determine within a group of people that you really know, so how can you do this for strangers?
2. How can the algorithm provide unbiased results? If anything ‘social’ has yet again proven us that it is human to cheat and bypass the system. Just look up any discussion on Twitter’s SUL list and you will know what I mean by that. Algorithms are unbiased, people cheat.
3. How will signal be found in the noise? Pagerank takes time to build. You need consistency and quality. But how can we deal with that when real-time results are incorporated? What if results from bots and spammers start to dominate the input, as they seem to be doing on services like Twitter? How can we distinguish commercial play from an honest message (this is the best coffee I’ve ever had).
4. How can we ensure that the web will not become a next version of ‘the lonely planet’? This is my worst fear. The web and the emerging technologies make everything and everyone look the same. There is no room for individualization, uniqueness, or creativity. It will all be captured, indexed, socialized, and pretty soon we are all looking at the same web. We will all discover that great place that serves great coffee, the one authority on backpacking vacations, the best car to drive, movie to watch, recipe to bake. Social relevance ranking becomes the common denominator. It makes the world flat, and leaves little or no room for alternative voices (as they will not rank high).
Social relevancy ranking may become the next big thing after PageRank. It will be exciting to see where it will take us. But it could very well turn out to become the biggest threat to our most precious gift, our own individuality!