Start-up Blekko and giant Microsoft harness social networks to improve search.
Internet search engines have become such a helpful fixture of everyday life that it's tough to imagine life before them. They gather information at eye-blink speed, can guess a user's intent and present real-time results from Twitter and other social sites.
But the experience of searching the Web remains largely solitary. While you can share the end result by pasting a link into an e-mail or a tweet, there's no way to share the cool stuff you brush past in the midst of a search.
That's starting to change, thanks to new search products, one from a Silicon Valley startup called Blekko and one from a tech giant as mainstream as they come, Microsoft.
Blekko, a Redwood City, Calif., search engine that can be found online at blekko.com, tries to screen out spam and links promoted by search engine optimization companies, which manipulate keywords and links to try to promote their clients in search results. But as of mid-December, Blekko also allows you to use your Facebook friends to filter Internet searches. In a sense, your friends provide the search algorithm, rather than Google or Bing.
The main focus of Blekko, which launched in November and has received funding from prominent Silicon Valley investors like Marc Andreessen and Ron Conway, is to use human editors to select a universe of authoritative websites.
Earlier this month, Blekko also started to allow users to harness their network of Facebook friends to "curate" search results. When a Blekko user enables the service, the search engine goes out and collects the large database of websites and pages that have been "liked" by the users' Facebook friends. The user can then filter subsequent searches so Blekko favors pages and websites that were endorsed by their friends.
"When somebody reads an article [on a newspaper website] and 'likes' the article, or 'likes' the site itself, that is somebody giving a quality vote -- especially when it's somebody that you know," said Mike Markson, chief marketing officer for Blekko. "That is a social vote which is saying, 'This is a good quality site; this isn't spam.'"
Another interesting new social search service is Montage, an experimental service created by Microsoft's Future Social Experience Labs (or FUSE), a 30-person team that is trying to create real-time, media-rich online experiences that people can share with their friends.
Microsoft announced last month that its Bing search engine would start showing whether a user's Facebook friends have liked a particular link that Bing has found. But Microsoft is also trying to build new products that make a search more social, such as Montage. You can try Montage at fuse.microsoft.com.
The service allows you to find and gather up recent content on the Web about a particular topic, including news stories, photos, video, tweets and even analytics that track interest in a topic. You can edit those elements into a digital album, which you can share on Twitter or Facebook.
Montage "is kind of like looking at the whole search experience end to end. It doesn't have to be a disposable process like it is today," said Matthew MacLaurin, director of FUSE Labs. "It's really saying the whole search experience should include the capture and rebroadcast of what you find, and not the single goal-oriented end state."