It has been clear for quite some time that social mechanisms need to be leveraged to help people find relevant and useful online information. The sheer volume of available information, the inadequacy of creation-time metadata annotation in a collaborative media setting, and the intractability of automated content processing are the main arguments here.
Examples of work in this direction includes our own concept studies around tribal navigation in future television. Meta-communities such as Delicious and Digg can also be seen as attempts in the same direction. Mainstream services and media, however, seem to have stuck somewhat on the idea that recommender systems (”people who bought book X also bought book Y”) are good enough for most purposes.
A few weeks ago, however, Google launched Social Search in their Labs department. The idea is basically to construct the user’s “social circle” from services such as Flickr and Twitter (assuming that the user’s friends have connected their accounts to their Google profiles) and then to present search results within that subset under a separate heading. Here is a demo on Youtube:
This may not be rocket science but it is super-timely and, given Google’s position on the search market, has the potential to be a game-changer moving the mainstream notion of socially enhanced information access beyond the anonymous recommender approach once and for all. This is a very welcome development, in my opinion.