Will Social Defeat Search?

An article posted today in Popular Mechanics asks if social may end up defeating search. Are they suggesting that social sites such as Facebook, Twitter and others could actually defeat a multi-billion dollar company like Google? Yes and I completely agree. How do I know this? Well I found this article through my Twitter feed thanks to Alice Marshall. Honestly, over the past few days a large percentage of my news sources have come through Twitter.

Is there anything wrong with this? Andrew Keen (who I’ve been blabbing about for most of the day) would argue that yes there is a problem with this. The lack of editorial oversight is damaging. When I’m linked to a source that has been processed by an editor, I see nothing wrong with it. What’s wrong is when our group of people is made up of a network of uninformed sources. Thankfully, I am networked through a group of people that I perceive as informed individuals.

The article states that “what may turn out to be the strongest signal of all is the footprint you make with your online identity.” I couldn’t agree more. Just take a look at Gary Vaynerchuk’s book which has become the 85th most popular book on Amazon in under 24-hours all because of word of mouth. Whether you like it or not, Gary has one of the strongest digital footprints on the web.

What we want to avoid is mob rule and while we do occasionally see mobs result (as took place at the Sarah Lacy/Zuckerberg interview), much of the time the collective is more then happy to share information in a rational way. If we build our networks large enough we can leverage the power of them to find solutions for us. Don’t have a large enough network yet? No worries, you can leverage one of your trusted friends that has an effective network. That’s already how hiring takes place, why not use it for finding information?

Adam Smith Was Right, Specialization is Key
Adam Smith suggested that economic growth is rooted in division of labor. In the digital world, that division is rapidly becoming the specialization of knowledge. I mean aren’t most of us already information workers anyways? If we all specialize in a specific topic, we can each provide others with the information they are looking for. I’ll ask Gary Vaynerchuk for a good wine and ask Frank Gruber for the best tool to install polls on my blog. While this works much of the time there are a number of conflicts which arise from social knowledge sourcing:

  • Challenge of balancing pleasure and work – One of the primary conflicts in an information age where we leverage specialized social knowledge is the conflict of socializing for work and socializing for pleasure. We’ve already begun to see this conflict arise and you can watch it take place all day on Twitter.
  • Plethora of disinformation – It is all too often that we cite one source as our source for information and use it to make judgements. This is because we assume that the other end performed due diligence. I would argue that this is easily defeated in a world of social knowledge by simply having multiple social knowledge experts on the same topic that can give us multiple references.
  • Lack of access – If you aren’t plugged into the network (as most of us are), you aren’t going to be able to easily find information. For this I think of my friend who’s dad gets all of his sources via the newspaper and library books. While perfectly acceptable and most likely accurate sources (since they went through an editorial process), he does not realize how quickly he could access certain information. Luckily anybody with a phone will have access, they just need to be aware of services.
  • Details – There are a bunch of other issues that need to be worked out and unforseen issues that will arise.

So is social already beginning to substitute search for you? Do you think we will get the majority of our information through social instead of search?