The goal of the Internet is to help people find what they want when they want it. Better yet, before they want it. The ideal internet provides the best content for a given need, regardless of backlinks, popularity or marketing budget. It should work like the Startship Enterprise. We should ask "Computer, which hosting company has the greatest up-time for less than 20 dollars per month," and get the best answer, instantly. Better yet, computers should anticipate that I'll be asking this question and give the answer before I even ask.
For the last 15 years we've been asking search engines for these answers, and they've done a great job. It's actually quite amazing what they're able to do, but the gap between Google's SERPs and the Startship Enterprise is is still pretty big.
Collectively humans have had to fill in the gap created by weak algorithms and a shortage in bandwidth. Today we can ask, "Tweeps, who knows of a host with really good up time. Your answer to this question might be better than Google's, but it will probably not be the best answer. Currently, humans have a ceiling. We are bound by the lizard brain at the base of our skulls which hinders our logic and capacity for rational thinking. It's difficult to see an end game where our active participation is needed for optimal findability. Even today, in a social graph fueled by populist sentiment, 3 out of 4 people really don't trust the opinions of their social contacts.
Update: Econsultancy also recently posted an article about the problems with social search.. This article does a great job of articulating the problems with social search, but doesn't really address the solution. Ultimately, the solution will be to pull active participation out of the social search equation altogether.
From Active to Passive Participation
On Twitter you generate a stream of data that requires your active participation. However, you also generate a lot of data passively:
- Where you are all the time.
- How long you stay on a web page.
- Your location through your phone.
- Your behavior within a set of search results.
- Your musical tastes.
- Your reading habits.
From a data quality standpoint these are cool, crisp rocky mountain steams compared to the steaming cesspool of actively generated data coming out of my own twitter feed. The sources of passive data about us will continue to grow and it seems inevitable that these data sources will eventually be more than enough to power advanced algorithms that make our social opinions obsolete. Our active participation will no longer be needed. It's the reason nobody uses social media on the Starship Enterprise. Is a passive stream of data social media? No, it's not. If it is, than I'm participating in social media every time I go to the grocery store.
Social media will never die. That's not what I'm saying. At worst it becomes a great way to meet people and interact, but this isn't really marketing. It would simply become a communications and networking tool.
Why This Is Great News
Almost everything that sucks about social media can be tied back to its economic viability. Every tweet motivated by something other than, "I think my followers will enjoy this" can be tied back to money and marketing. You take the money out of social media, and social media wins.