Over the past few years, we have watched as Google (GOOG) launched continued attempts at becoming a successful social network with the ability to introduce socially curated search results. First came the [+1] button that was layered over their existing search results (the button that no one seems to have an incentive to click), then came Google Plus which a few months back claimed 100 million users on a platform that is having a hard time differentiating from the platform they are so obviously copying.
When it comes to Facebook (FB), their attempts to integrate traditional search through a partnership with Microsoft's (MSFT) Bing have not added much value, especially as the results rank below the hundreds of thousands of commercially controlled Facebook pages and hundreds of millions of other users in the results window. The need for social results definitely exists; it's not uncommon to see status updates along the lines of "Anyone know a good window cleaner?" or "I've got an hour to kill in Chicago, any suggestions?" appearing in the news feeds. While Facebook has denied recent reports claiming they are in talks with Yahoo (YHOO) to develop a new kind of search engine, based on the feedback from these stories, it seems there is a restless demand for a more social search engine.
If Google can't effectively curate their search results based on social opinion and Facebook can't add value to these queries in a more scalable way, what's the solution?
Amazon's (AMZN) IMDB has been delivering socially curated results to film buffs for over a decade reporting over 90 million monthly visitors. In the past few years, Expedia (EXPE) had great success in founding and spinning off Trip Advisor (TRIP) to curate the travel industry. Yelp (YELP) went public in the spring and seems to be holding its own; they also claim over 90 million monthly users since acquiring their European competitor "Qype" in October of this year.
Even with these heavyweight rating sites covering the obvious niches, Google's keyword tool still reports that people search the terms "Best" and "Top" over 615 Million times monthly! People are clearly seeking results based more on social opinion than complex algorithm.
New and rapidly growing social curation platforms like Pinterest and the newcomer Qrate Search, have yet to prove themselves as lasting game changers and the established niche rating platforms have struggled to expand from their initial and limited category definitions. As far as I can see, it's still anyone's game. It will be interesting to see who can nail it and effectively redefine how we interpret and consume data in the future.