Building Community Intelligence at Yahoo

LibraryCrunch: Building Community Intelligence at Yahoo: The New York Times is out with an article entitled, A Journey to the Center of Yahoo! The article profiles Yahoo! and especially looks at the possibilities for social communities in Yahoo! and their subsequent implication for search. Lately I’ve been coming more and more to the realization that social communities as human filters can have powerful implications for search. We are only just seeing the beginning of this.

From the article: “The idea that human judgment can improve a search engine’s automatic findings is hardly new. From the dawn of the Web’s history – that is, over the last 15 years – companies have invented tools to help users assess the quality and relevance of information, often by relying on others’ opinions. Examples include Amazon’s user reviews, eBay’s feedback ratings and ‘trusted networks’ created on many sites.”

Whether Flickr’s interestingness or Digg’s interestingness, search firms are applying serious leverage to their results by giving their algorithms more and more human input. This human input from larger and larger communities will act as a kind of miracle grow for search and will enhance relevancy to degrees that we have not seen hence.

Already Flickr’s interestingness photos trump anything you will find in terms of rank relevance at either Yahoo! or Google.

So real value in search will come from those who successfully build communities. This is not an easy thing and although it can occasionally be bought — as Flickr is a prime example, companies must be careful as the value of a community can suddenly turn to zero and it’s members scatter like leaves in the wind if not tended to carefully. Communities and people are fickle and you generally have to give more than you get. People have to believe that you are sincere and the community dynamics cannot be clouded by short term financial metrics whether grown organically or through acquisition. The most successful communities will create many disparate and even contradictory sub communities.

The exciting thing is that there are so many new ways that we can potentially come up with to delight and inspire people to be a part of something online in this whole new/old Web 2.0 thingy. People want community — especially young connected people online.

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.: “What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.”

The article is ended with a quote from Flickr’s Caterina Fake: “You can think about the way people will interact, as you sit in the usability lab, but until you put it in front of very large numbers of real people, you don’t really know,” Ms. Fake said. “So you have to release products early and often, like perpetual beta.” Indeed.