Search and Active Listening Redux: Implementation and Privacy

“ID:Entity”, a frequent commentor on John Battelle’s Search Blog, replied to my post on Search Engines and Active Listening, originated by Jeremy Zawodny. Here’s his reply:

Tony, I agree, but what happens if you swtich search provider, how long till the intelligence is acquired again? or what if your online apps are provided by numerous providers. who is going to collate the inteligence? I could not envisage using the same company for the next 3yrs let alone 30.

The key question however is are you comfortable with a organisation knowing that much information about you. I’ll leave the definition of “organisation” to your own imagination.

And here’s my reply:

ID:entity – As is typical of your comments here on John’s blog, your reply is especially insightful, as it points out a couple of the bigger problems we’re seeing in several aspects of “digital life”.

Let me use “social networking” as an example. I co-founded a company named WishClick “back in the day” and built a social networking component into it, based on; WishClick was a networked gift registry (acting as both a destination site and ASP for online retailers), and as a registry is viral and personal by nature, it seemed like a great fit.

Well, things didn’t exactly go our way, but as you well know, the last few years have seen all sorts of social apps (Friendster, LinkedIn, et al). One of the popular memes (and I think John’s commented on this) is: Is this a feature or a company? Why? Well, at least in part, because IMHO, social networking should be a platform, with a variety of applications (dating, business networking, etc) built on top of it.

So issue one: should the knowledge that allows for search refinement be siloed (which providers would love from a “stickiness” perspective), or should it be platform that disparate apps feed and pull from? (My vote is for the latter.)

Issue two? You nailed that too. Privacy. Exactly how much should any one organization know about me, or, to the other side of issue one, how can I control which organizations have access to my central profile/repository?

What I do know is that consumers are still too uncomfortable (and rightly so) to buy into this in mass; MSFT Passport/Hailstorm’s utter failure is a great example of the disaster that can occur when you fail consumers on both issues 1 & 2 (and fail to secure the trust of partners for your platform play).

Conceptually though… I do think that search algos must be fed with more context on the searcher if they are to approach John’s “perfect search” world; more processing on the data (concept clustering, etc) is valuable, but ultimately insufficient.

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