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U Rank – Microsoft’s Social Search Experimental Site
Out now from Microsoft Research is U Rank, an experiment that allows people to move results around, as well as share them with friends and add comments to listings.
Want to play? Sigh. You have to register using a Windows Live ID. Why not just make it open for anyone to use on a cookie basis? The cookie could allow short term changes to be remembered, while logging in could be done for those who wanted to protect their edits in the long term.
Anyway, once in, you can do a search and wait, and wait, and wait to get back results. Perhaps the response time will improve. When they appear, you can then hover to the right to get options like this:
These allow you to:
- Move an item up or down (click on “move me,” then you drag to where you want)
- Copy an item to another search (this is weird, and I couldn’t get it to work. I assume it will move a listing to appear in the results of another search that you indicate)
- Add a note to any item (this also wouldn’t work for me, perhaps because I’m using Firefox).
- Delete a result
Edits that you do then are recorded and appear the next time you do a search. IE, move a result higher, and you’ll see it higher next time you search, along with a little flag indicating you did an edit.
By default, sharing of searches is on, as you’re told next to the search box:
This means any search you do is automatically shared with those you friend through the service. That’s a terrible idea, having it on by default. I think people will fail to remember to block sharing for some fairly personal searches they do. Far better to make sharing something you do explicitly, to be on the safe side. Of course, the downside to this is that people might not remember to do so, which takes away from the social experience Microsoft is aiming for with this test.
Is search really social? My Search 4.0: Putting Humans Back In Search from earlier this year argued that in many cases, I feel it is not. It also touches on the privacy issues raised with sharing:
Finally, privacy is an overlooked issue when it comes to social search. People often search for intensely private, personal things using search engines. Search engines are almost like confessionals, where people seek solutions to problems they might not tell real people that are close to them. With social search, do they have to remember to turn off a sharing feature that might be activated by default? And if it’s not on by default, will it get any take-up at all?
Of course, you start the service with no friends at all, so sharing isn’t that much a worry at the start. At the moment, once you join, others that seem to match you are somehow suggested (I had suggestions from people within Microsoft Research). You have to actually accept them, however. You can also invite two other friends, at the moment.
Friends are able to move results that influence what you see. In other words, if they do an edit, you’ll see that edit in your own results. Plus, you can make use of a tag cloud of searches to see what others are searching on.
Concerns on sharing aside, the project looks interesting. It also looks a lot like the Google Like/Don’t Like experiment that has been off and on since last year, as well as editing tools that Wikia Search rolled out and ones that I think Mahalo also has. Hakia also just recently rolled out a way for group edits in the form of “trusted results” using librarians and informational professionals to contribute.
In short, the wave of letting users edit their own results is back? Back? Yes, because if I had time, I’d add more about how we used to have many of these same tools with the major search engines years ago. But no matter — the ability to edit and move results is welcome, and I hope we’ll see more of it.
And will we see this on Microsoft Live Search? Says Microsoft in their email about it:
Live Search has absolutely no intention of implementing this…
Of course, I’m sure Live Search almost certainly WILL implement anything that they find useful on this experimental site. After all, the email goes on:
The goal of the research project is to learn more about “how” people use search technologies, like whether they take advantage of the ability to edit search results and how they share the results over time with friends and family.
So check it out. Just remember to turn that sharing off or be sure you really, really like the folks you friend on the system, if you use it much.