Yahoo bought the social book-marking site del.icio.us in December. It’s been nearly six months.
Is anything going on over there?
According to Joshua Schachter, founder and product general manager, the answer is yes. A lot. Even if there’s nary a speck of Yahoo’s own branding on the site.
That lot has to do with integrating the social search del.icio.us brings to the table and the traditional algorithmic search Yahoo relies on for the most part now.
Del.icio.us allows users to publicly bookmark sites with keywords called tags and, according to Schachter, thus makes it easier for users to both remember sites they’ve found while also exposing them to other people’s “knowledge, passions and interests.”
Plus, the site just tweaked its homepage, as Schachter noted on his blog.
“You’ll notice that the del.icio.us homepage now features a hotlist which is updated every hour to show you the top three most popular links as of that moment. These links are taken directly from the popular page, and we never show the same link twice. This guarantees that every time you visit the homepage, you’ll see something new (well, at least every hour),” he wrote yesterday.
The site counted some 300,000 users as of December of 2005, according to Yahoo, which said it didn’t have recent figures beyond that to quote.
So what’s so hot about the del.icio.us difference? Try this metaphor: Del.icio.us is a big bucket of URLs.
You can retrieve URLs from the bucket by searching the keywords other users tagged URLs with before dropping them in the bucket.
You can also poke a hole in the side of the bucket to get an RSS stream of Web sites, all tagged with the same keyword or tagged by the same users, or both.
David Weinberger, a PhD and Research Fellow at Harvard Law’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, calls it a great tool for tracking pages he may want to find again.
“But I’m also aware that I’m contributing to a collective stream of knowledge,” he told internetnews.com. “If I find a page I find interesting and I think others might find interesting, I know that when I tag it, other people searching for that tag will find the same information.”
When those keywords are plied by other users, social search is underway.
Yahoo and Google have traditionally relied on algorithmic search instead of social search. But they’re more than aware of the possibilites with human-based search.
Plenty of companies are building a business around the mini-networking of tagging, such as TagWorld, a site for organizing and sharing personal content. Then there’s photo-sharing site Flickr.com (also owned by Yahoo), which specializes in users that tag photos to make them available for search. A start-up called PreFound.com uses only social search.
Still, Weinberger thinks social search and algorithmic should be integrated.
“Searching tags is a good supplement to searching the words the author put into the text,” Weinberger said, “[With algorithmic search], you’re searching for the words the author has put in. If you could also search for tags simultaneously you would be searching for what the readers think the page is about.”
What a page is about isn’t always explicit on the page, he continued. “You will find books that are tagged ‘fiction,’ ‘1930s,’ ‘detective.’ But the book itself may not have the word fiction in it because it’s too obvious.”
Turns out Yahoo agrees. “Clearly. That’s what our group is doing,” Schachter said.
The revelation is perhaps not too surprising, if only because Yahoo just last week integrated Yahoo Answers with its traditional search.
“When you combine what people know with information typically collected by algorithms and computers, you end up with a much more engaging Web search experience,” said Yahoo Answers product general manager Patrick Crane.
And, according to Weinberger, there’s also strong economic incentive for Yahoo to integrate social and algorithmic search.
Will Yahoo’s advertisers will love it?
“By looking at someone’s tags you find out what she or he is actually interested in,” Weinberger said, “It certainly is tempting marketers.”
There’s another really good reason Yahoo is likely to integrate its social search technology with algorithmic search.
Google’s doing it too.
“Adding community knowledge to Google’s product is definitely something that we are considering and experimenting with.”
And so is del.icio.us owner and operator, Yahoo. At least, they have been for the last six months or so.
If you’d like to make this part of a conversation, you can del.icio.us this.