Jul 17 2008

Social Search

Last week, Me.dium released its Alpha version of Me.dium Social Search.  This coincided with Yahoo!’s launch of BOSS – Me.dium was one of the initial launch partners.  This was picked up by Techmeme and prominently talked about throughout the blogosphere, tech media, and even the mainstream media.

I’ve been involved with Me.dium since its first financing and the launch of Me.dium Social Search is a key pivot point as it starts to capitalize on the initial vision of the company.  If you are familiar with Me.dium, you may know of it as a company that has a browser sidebar that enables real time browsing with friends.  This concept started out as a "recommendation service" where the algorithms suggested alternative web sites and people based on how your browsing patterns matched the browsing patterns of your friends and the overall community.

This was – and is – a pretty neat idea, but it’s really hard to do effectively in a browser sidebar. Me.dium built out a lot of backend infrastructure to process a large amount of information in real time, which is necessary to make the algorithms useful across a large user base.  In the process of doing this, it occurred to the team that the sidebar might not be the best way to surface the information and that search might be a better way to deliver its value to the user since Me.dium’s collaborative filtering algorithms are an entirely different search algorithm than the PageRank type ones we’ve gotten used to.

A group of folks at Me.dium went heads down and starting working on using the stream of data they were getting to turn out a real time social search engine.  Along the way, Yahoo! decided to open up their search engine infrastructure through Yahoo! BOSS and a natural collaboration was born.

Rather than hold on tight, create a "closed beta", and limit the use and exploration of Me.dium Social Search, they did what I wish more companies would do and went "straight to Alpha".  Even though it’s alpha and still evolving rapidly, Me.dium Social Search produces some really interesting search results that correspond to the web pages that people are looking at right now about specific topics. 

The notion of the Me.dium Sidebar has morphed into a Social Toolbar which, in addition to providing a bevy of social features, also starts including your clickstream in the corpus of data that Me.dium is using for their social search algorithms. Me.dium is fanatical about your privacy and includes a simple one click way in your toolbar to turn Me.dium tracking on and off and never tracks information on secure (via HTTPS) sites.

Yahoo! has stirred the search pot in an interesting way with BOSS.  Me.dium’s going after one particular vector – that of social search – by building on a lot of work they’ve been doing over the past eighteen months.  I expect you’ll hear a lot about The Future of Search in the coming year – I think Me.dium will be one of the companies regularly mentioned in the mix of folks trying new approaches.

Give Me.dium Social Search a try (simply type your search term into the little box and hit the "I Feel Social" button) and tell us what you think.  And – if you want to go deeper on the ideas, take a look at Robert Reich’s (one of Me.dium’s co-founders) blog titled Why to hear him riff on search.