Recently Google launched Google Co-op, the company’s foray into social search. Co-op allows people to act as web guides, marking their favorite websites in different topic areas, and then sharing them with friends. Subscribe to your friends’ links and they will appear in the supplemental search results for relevant searches.
The idea is that websites rated highly by trusted friends deserve more prominent placement.
The term “friends” is loosely defined – organizations or businesses that you consider to be subject matter experts also qualify. For example, if you “subscribe” (via Co-op) to Frommer’s Travel Guides and search for “London”, you’ll see links for Lodging Guides and Suggested Itineraries above the organic search results.
This has obvious potential for businesses, especially those with customer loyalty programs. The big question is whether or not Co-op will become a new way to identify authority websites, boosting them in organic search results, much the way that Yahoo! wants to use social tagging and “the wisdom of crowds” to influence its search results.
My bet is that Co-op is simply a way for Google to hedge its bets in case social tagging takes off, and that Google is far less committed to the concept of social search.
Yahoo! and Google have vastly different DNA. Yahoo! began as a human-edited web directory, abandoning that approach only when it failed to keep up with the growth of the web. Social search lets Yahoo! return to its directory roots. Indeed, one way to look at social search is as an infinitely scaleable web directory with thousands of volunteer web guides.
Google bet on “the wisdom of crowds” years ago with PageRank, which identifies authority websites based on links from other sites. Since learning that PageRank can be spammed by artificial links, they have sought other ways to identify quality sites, such as traffic data gathered through the Google Toolbar and now Co-op.
Can social search be spammed? You can bet a lot of people will try.