The Future of Search

by francine Hardaway on August 30, 2007

For the past few days, ever since I saw Scoble’s videos on the future of Google, Mahalo, and Facebook, I have been thinking about why Scoble is RIGHT about social-graph based search. In fact, I even got on his channel and made a video trying to represent my own views. I won’t link to it because I don’t think I did a very good job. I think I am more of a writer.

So here goes. I just had breakfast with a man who is getting a Ph.D in organizational psychology and trying to see if he can compare organizations to living systems. Living systems, he says, naturally gather the resources they need to survive. I suspect organizations do not always do that, although when run correctly they could. But I also suspect social networks do. Social networks, human beings, and organizations are very similar.

That’s because we are all living systems.

Now my Ph D. is in communications, not organizational psychology. But it doesn’t take rocket science to notice that high school kids form cliques, which become fraternities, which become professional organizations, which become gym friends, which become tennis teams, which become business partnerships. which become groups of co-investors, etc.

Human beings would always rather do business with friends than strangers. My late friend Sri Sidharan, up to the moment of his death, was studying trust networks and how to monetize them. I think Sri is talking through me when I tell you that Robert may be wrong about some of the details, but right about the principle of who will win in search and why.

With tears in my eyes I quote from Infinisri Resources:
At the tail end of Sri’s career with Intel, he served as the Chief Architect for Knowledge Management. This included heavily technology driven KM such as portals and knowledge bases along with community development in the form of a multitude of Communities of Practice. In developing over 35 communities one thing stood out. First these were the “easy ones” – communities of specialists who shared interest and sharing knowledge enhanced their own. Second, when he attempted to form cross-disciplinary communities for knowledge sharing – the issue was hardly that of “hoarding knowledge” made popular in various KM conferences – it was the opposite – marketing would not trust engineering, engineering would not trust technical support and so forth. So Trust within and among organizations became a topic of great interest. Upon leaving Intel, Sri got busy studying the role of trust in organizations.

The first summer he spent in Menlo Park, he developed a friendship with Prof Syed Shariq who agreed to form TrustNet whose primary activity at that time was a weekly gathering of interested individuals to discuss and enhance each other’s knowledge of trust. An invited lecture at NASA the next year, where Sri spoke about “trust in sociotechnical systems” confirmed that interest was great in the topic. Back in Phoenix, Sri set out to interview more than half dozen leaders of corporations and began synthesizing a novel framework for trust assessment and re-alignment of the organization. Out of this came a book Leadership, Strategy and Trust and a corporate workshop on Trust in and among organizations.

Unfortunately, Sri died of malaria last year after coming home from a trip to Ghana, and his work came to an abrupt halt. So I can’t call him and ask him what he thinks of Facebook, or who he thinks will win the search wars. He would certainly have had a theory.

But I think there is much to study here, and much to learn about why a social network will win out over a mere algorithm for search. Robert has found it intuitively. Now people with different skill sets should take these insights further, refine them and put them to use.

I would much rather ask my Facebook friends to recommend a doctor in San Francisco than just do a Google search. Or even a Mahalo search, although I do think Jason is trying to build a trust network, and let’s just see if it’s possible.

In a long life I have learned not to write things off too quickly.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Hans August 30, 2007 at 12:19 pm

Living systems also self organize and exist primarily based on relationships within their immediate ecosystem, and to some degree beyond.

I think that one of areas where we need to develop intelligent questions and dialogue is in how living, organistic systems differ from human systems. Do the emotional and cognitive aspects of a human being change how a human organization can be organized or how it can be structured? How does the concept of money and all of its implications and influences change how a human organization can be structured and how it learns, versus organistic models? There are many questions that need to be explored before we can understand which elements of a living system can be borrowed for human organizations. I guess what I proposing here is that there is a difference.

I am not so sure it matters who will win, but I am interested in how we can bring people together in new ways and create new methods for meaningful dialogue, the core fabric of human relationships. hk

francine hardaway August 30, 2007 at 12:21 pm

Sweeeet! You get to go further on this with Scoble and Heuer and me. I”m so glad we had breakfast.

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