Recently there has been a lot of talk about social search. Just last week I attended Microsoft Faculty Summit in Seattle, and one of the sessions was dedicated to social search. The panelists talked about social Q&A using Yahoo! Answers and Facebook status messages. It occurred to me during that session that all of the talks were really about social information seeking/retrieval, and not about social search. I raised this question after the panel presentations and Merrie Morris immediately agreed that everything that she was talking about social search was indeed technically social information seeking!
I kept thinking about what really is social search. Fortunately, the next day was the Social Media Day that allowed me to have more focused discussions with more specialized experts in the field. During the “birds of feather” lunch, I was at the social search table and through our discussions, it became clear to me that there are two ways of thinking about social search: a search done on social objects, or search done in a social network.
What is a social object? Two ways of defining it: (1) an information object that has social attributes such as name, age, gender, location, and (2) an information object created through a social construction, such as a Wikipedia article.
How is search done in a social network? It’s usually done by broadcasting information need to one’s social network. Think of people posting questions as their Facebook status updates.
Often social search is defined as a method of searching that takes into account connections among people in addition to connections among information objects. The above explanation/understanding of social search does hold with this definition.