While Jason Calacanis’ alpha Mahalo service has garnered attention for its human-powered approach to search, you might want to try Twitter instead. Gather some of your favorite people together and then, when you need specialized information or advice, ask them. You’ll be amazed what great results you can get.
For example, one of my friends needed some advice yesterday. He wanted to know how to set freelance consulting rates. Did he Google? Or Ask Metafilter? No, he used Twitter to do a people-powered search. He searched through his social network for the answer to his question.
My friend received advice that was both trustworthy and targeted. The advice was trustworthy because it came from people he knew. It was targeted because those people know him too — so they could take his particular situation into account when they provided tips and resources.
If you search on Google for information about setting freelance rates, you’d get some blog articles and some calculators, but how do you know what to trust? And even with Google’s personalized search, you’re not going to get information that knows as much about your situation as your friends and colleagues.
Mahalo does much worse than Google. It doesn’t have any results yet for “freelance consulting rates.” Granted, it’s still alpha, but this demonstrates a general problem with the approach: it can’t tap into human intelligence immediately like Twitter can.
Twitter social search would also work for questions like, “what’s a good restaurant in Boston to take a potential client to?” or “why is there a funky indentation in my blog theme?” People can easily parse these questions and ignore them if they have no idea. Or they can respond if they happen to be paying attention and have the time and inclination. Bonus: as questions get answered, social connections are created and deepened.
You wouldn’t want to saturate your Twitter network with every little search you do; Google and other search engines work fine in most cases. (And note that Google, in fact, embeds human intelligence in its search algorithms by considering links created by people). But some questions really need to be answered by your own social network, with technology just a means of connection.
Do you use Twitter for social search? What kind of questions have you gotten answered that way?