Everyone is an expert in something, as the powerful old tagline from Seth Godin’s Squidoo initially promised when the site launched. Squidoo is one of a number of sites that are tapping into these distributed pockets of expertise in an effort to help individuals benefit from the skills and knowledge of one another to find the best content online on just about any topic. Lenses, as they call them in Squidoo, can focus on just about any topic – and often do, from Jane Goodall’s Lens about The Big Picture to tips on flying with a baby. Blogs, podcasts, vlogs, and other content posted online can all be examples of people sharing their own unique expertise with everyone else online. The impact this is having on search is similar to the "recommendation engine" concept outlined in my previous post. The simple fact is, people trust one another. And anyone who exhibits a depth of knowledge, either based on passion, or lifetime experience, or even recent experience – can become a trusted information source. Squidoo allows these "experts" to create descriptive content and a list of links in a lens. Rollyo, another interesting effort online, allows users to define a list of sites that relate to a particular topic and roll them into a "searchroll." Searchrolls can then be searched by anyone and effectively segment a search to only look within sites included in the searchroll. Already the site has high profile searchrolls from John Battelle, Debra Messing, Rosario Dawson, Ariana Huffington and more. This is another practical adaptation of "learning search" technology that has been around for nearly a decade, but based on individually created lists versus algorithmic refinement.
Yahoo is one of a number of sites pioneering another form of sharing expertise online, taking a question and answer approach. The recently launched Yahoo Answers promises answers to users for just about any type of question and researchers "on deck" to help solve problems. This is a method that in some cases could be used to displace search entirely – but offers another interesting application of expertise online and how it can be used to help web users seeking information. Another example, recently reviewed in USA Today as the poster child for "social search" is Prefound.com. This also builds on the idea that what many others have searched for in the past is relevant for you as you conduct the same search now. As it becomes easier and easier for individuals to not only create content, but build upon one another’s experiences and share their expertise online – these pockets of experienced opinions will continue to help segment and organize content online. This is a phenomenon better termed the "expert side of search" – where anyone’s expertise in anything can now make the increasingly complicated maze of content on the Internet easier to navigate.
Note: This post is the third in a series of explorations of the human side of search that relate to my upcoming presentation at the Search Insider Summit this week in Keystone, Colorado.