The term “social search” is kind of a catch-all category now for a range of companies that are bringing people back into the algorithm. Not only are these companies seeking to improve search results with humans, they’re trying to differentiate vs. Google from a marketing standpoint on that basis as well. Eurekster, ChaCha, Jimmy Wales’ Wikia Search and PreFound are just four among many examples. These companies are all doing interesting things but there’s a kind of “noise” now that creates a marketing challenge for anyone competing in the space.
Trying to rise above that din, PreFound relaunched yesterday with a new UI, new and improved personalization tools and a new push to gain attention in the market.
Rebranding itself somewhat as a “community” search engine, PreFound, like others, is trying to build a human-edited layer on top of general (in this case Google) search results.
In the new UI, results are layered with Wikipedia, if applicable, at the top, followed by the human-powered results (rated collections of links) and then Google Web results. Here’s an example search for “social bookmarking sites.” Here’s an example of one of the collections of links in the results for social bookmarking sites.
Social engines are seeking to bring people back into search, in one sense, to create more structure around results. And in many cases, assuming enough participation, engines such as PreFound are indeed going to be more efficient than using “traditional” Web search. But participation is the core challenge.
PreFound CEO Steve Mansfield and I discussed the central “chicken and egg” problem here, which is ultimately a marketing challenge. You have to get attention to gain participation to create the human-powered index that is your differentiator and helps build more usage and momentum in turn. It’s a worthy but enormously difficult project.
There will be many casualties on the way to social search success. But it does seem that there’s an emerging appetite for viable alternatives to traditional Web search.