Startup Opportunity: Social Search

By January 21, 2011

Mobile, social, search, cloud computing, location-based — everyone is placing their bets on where technology is heading. Although there’s opportunity in each, the biggest opportunity is something completely different: Social Search.

What is the Future of the Web?

Social Search — where information and the individual live in bliss. People have been talking about it for a while and Google even launched a social search product in 2009, but nothing has hit mainstream. That is not because people don’t want it, it is because no one is focusing on it (Although Google’s Sergey Brin did touch on the topic recently — found here).

All the big guns are fighting over display ads, mobile operating systems, and television — leaving search without a true champion for innovation. The following start-ups are attempting to change that, but as I will explain they are not the solution.

Search Startups


Received $24 million in funding (Long Live the Tech Bubble of 2010) where you can create slashtag lists by topic and share them with others. This strategy eliminates spam and greatly increases the accuracy of search results.  This concept is beginning to see some success as Blekko is now serving over 1 million queries per day.

Although I agree that the results are more relevant, I don’t think it’s going to reach mainstream penetration due to the strength of Google’s brand. Blekko’s homepage is more or less the same as Google’s, which will fail to persuade users that it is significantly different. On top of that, it does not clearly address new users — aside from the modest link in the top left — which could lead to a high bounce rate and lost customers who do not understand its added value. Also, how many are going to create lists? In the time it would take someone to do that, they could have performed 15 searches on Google, one of which will give them the information they need. They are going to need to do the work for the user in order to keep their queries.


A multimedia search engine whose goal is to advance information technology to the point it acts human. Pretty sweet concept, so much so that it was named 2010’s most disruptive company at TechCrunch Disrupt. It’s also the first search engine with an aesthetic appeal — which is something search has need for a while. (Bing does a great job of this as well.)

I have a few doubts though. 1) What is its business model? People won’t be happy with paid search on this one. 2) What if I do not want to watch a two-minute video every time I do a search? Speed trumps all. This may be addressed as development continues, but at present its more of a video encyclopedia than a search engine.


In their words, “Topsy indexes and ranks search results based upon the most influential conversations millions of people are having every day about each specific term, topic, page or domain queried.” Now there’s a concept — a search engine that acknowledges what matters on the web these days: social content. For any social media marketer, this should be your search engine of choice.

However, as I said in another post “Google’s Algorithm is Outdated in the Age of Social“, the algorithm of 2010 should rank content by the number of times its been shared, not by links and anchor text. Topsy, I salute you for these efforts and wish you the best in the future, however I am not sure that your algorithm is the final solution.

What are Startup Search Engines missing?

Although innovative, none of the above are disruptive — sorry TechCrunch — because they are still simply search engines, when they need to be social search engines.

People are spending 22% of their time online on social media, yet search engines are hardly acknowledging their presence. That needs to change, because search engines and social networks have a symbiotic relationship. Social media could not exist without the links people discover on search engines to post to their networks; while search engines benefit greatly from the number of queries social media generates — Facebook was the top search query in 2010.

With this symbiotic relationship, why not break down the barrier and combine the two into one seamless experience — and free people from the burden of copying and pasting links between tabs.

How Social Search could Work

Google and Facebook could team up, but there’s no way that’ll happen, therefore the only solution is for a start-up to go David on the Goliaths and convince over 500 million people to change their daily habits of searching, posting, and creeping to try something new.

Possible? Yes. Probable? No.

Regardless, this is where I am placing my bet as the next big breakthrough on the web because of the simple fact that Search and Social are the two most popular activities performed by users. Startups are not fulfilling this demand, instead they are devising sophisticated solutions that merely improve upon existing ideas, rather than changing the model altogether. A search engine is not going to overtake the Google/Bing duo; therefore it is up to entrepreneurs to craft the next generation of search — whatever that may be.