Reference vs. Referral

April 10, 2009
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I just read an interesting “guessay” by designer Joshua Porter entitled “The Slow Erosion of Google Search“–which in turn cites an insightful essay by Brynn Evans, “Why social search won’t topple Google (anytime soon)“. Brynn’s tweet alerted me to the Porter essay, which just shows that social media can have directed cycles!

But what really caught my attention was the following comment by Mike Susz on Porter’s post:

google vs. social media is the difference between reference, and referral.

google is a reference, and to find accurate info relies on you being able to boil down what you’re looking for to a very small amount of words that hold lots of meaning.

there is no other context – it’s like looking something up in the dictionary. unless you can already succinctly describe what you’re looking for in very few distinctive terms, you won’t find what you need.

social media adds incredibly value context to your search – from your ability to elaborate more (within reason) to being able to disambiguate terms.

even your relationships themselves add infinitely valuable context – your contacts know what you do for a living, the techni

I just read an interesting “guessay” by designer Joshua Porter entitled “The Slow Erosion of Google Search“–which in turn cites an insightful essay by Brynn Evans, “Why social search won’t topple Google (anytime soon)“. Brynn’s tweet alerted me to the Porter essay, which just shows that social media can have directed cycles!

But what really caught my attention was the following comment by Mike Susz on Porter’s post:

google vs. social media is the difference between reference, and referral.

google is a reference, and to find accurate info relies on you being able to boil down what you’re looking for to a very small amount of words that hold lots of meaning.

there is no other context – it’s like looking something up in the dictionary. unless you can already succinctly describe what you’re looking for in very few distinctive terms, you won’t find what you need.

social media adds incredibly value context to your search – from your ability to elaborate more (within reason) to being able to disambiguate terms.

even your relationships themselves add infinitely valuable context – your contacts know what you do for a living, the techniques or technologies you use, and might already have experience solving the same problems.

What a fantastic and concise explanation of the difference between the way people interact with conventional web search engines and the way they seek information through online communities like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Today I even had the opportunity to experience this difference first- hand: I used social search to replace my headphones. I first went to Hunch, which did a solid job of pointing me to a suitable pair of headphones. In fact, I ultimately purchased the headphones recommended as the 3rd of 53 possible choices. After getting recommendations from Hunch, I turned to Twitter, where I received a flurry of advice, as well as requests to share what I learned. Given that advice, I turned to a few ecommerce sites to follow up on a few candidates. And ultimately I bought a pair of headphones that will hopefully arrive before my current ones fall apart.

So, is Twitter a search engine after all? I still say no, but it certainly facilitates social search.

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