Every so often, I’ve posted about the erosion of a universal Google ground truth as Google rolls out personalisation features that tweak the ranking of search results presented to you based on what Google knows about you. So with a recent announcement from Bing about its search integration with Facebook, I started wondering: could academic subject librarians (in a professional capacity) start to influence the search results of their charges (students, researchers, academics), simply by developing a strong persona as seen by the search engines, and friending their patrons in a public way also visible to the search engines.
So what exactly did Bing announce? Search Engine Land’s Danny Sullivan described it in Bing, Now With Extra Facebook: See What Your Friends Like & People Search Results as follows: “Bing is now making use of it to show new “Liked By Your Friends” matches and Facebook-powered people search results.” Liked results (when they appear), are currenlty presented in a specially marked out “liked by your Facebook friends” listing (Danny’s post shows some screenshot examples). However:
[o]utside the Liked Results, Facebook’s data is not being used to reshape the “regular” results, the listings found from crawling the web. Rather, traditional ranking factors such as the content on the pages and how people link to them is used — similar to what Google does.
Like Results are also unique to each person. What I get depends upon who my friends are. Someone else, with a different set of friends, will see different links suggested.
One thing is certain. If you haven’t been paying attention to Facebook like buttons, get moving. There’s already some direct benefit in search, and chances are this will grow.
So, the question that immediately came to my mind was: if librarians become Facebook friends of their patrons, and start “Liking” high quality resources they find on the web, might they start influencing the results that are presented to their patrons on particular searches?”
That is: could librarians take on a role of “influential friends” in a particular topic area, much as a subject librarian helps guide a patron in a traditional library? Or how about recasting the idea of the “embedded librarian” as a librarian who is embedded in the network, and who role is essentially to provide SEO services for content they want to help their patrons discover? (This relates to the question: if discovery happens elsewhere, how can librarins influence that discovery? Is SEO of other peoples’ content in some way akin to a weak form of collection development?!)
Where else might this line of thinking take us? If the Goog can track folk signed into a Google Apps for Edu domain, such as open.ac.uk, could that network of people be used to influence search results somehow…?
Just by the by, here are a couple of other examples of how content published or curated by one person might appear in or influence* the results of a person they are socially or organisationally connected to:
– Explore Interesting, Personal Photos on Yahoo! Search describes how their “new ‘Facebook Album Search beta’ feature, [allows you to] find public albums from the friends and family you’re connected to on Facebook (after you have linked your Yahoo! and Facebook accounts)”.
– Is Google Custom Search Influencing Google Web Search? starts to consider how the curation of a custom search engine might influence the discovery or ranking of sites and pages listed the CSE in the general web search context. (Or by extension of the above, maybe CSEs curated by trusted sources in a Google Apps for Edu domain be used to provide additional ranking factors to searches run logged in members of that domain?) If CSEs do influence rankings, maybe CSE development is a form of collection development that can influence the search results of others at a distance (i.e. on Google web search?!)
*I think this is a distinction worth bearing in mind as things play out: the ability for one person to publish content that is directly favourably ranked in another person’s results, versus the ability for one person to directly influence the ranking of third party content that appears in another person’s results.
Search Histories, Personas and Profiles as Intellectual Capital
Given the above, let us suppose that an individual can gain influence over the search results of people they are connected to by virtue of the way they have “touched” the web. If we consider the actual searches made by an individual themselves, this may also have value (as for example when a search engine tunes the results it displays for you based on your persoanl search history). I’ve touched on this before, e.g. in the context of a discussion I had with Martin Weller a couple of years ago (Your search is valuable to us) that crystallised this idea out me that I keep coming back to – that your profile as a search engine user is something of value not only to an individual, but potentially also to an institution or a service. Which is to say: the combination of what a search engine knows about you (incl social circle, things you search for, click on, search history, etc etc) and how it uses that information to tweak your personal search engine ranking factors define a “search engine persona”, which is a valuable knowledge commodity.
I think this question then follows: should institutions develop role-based personas that run searches, Like things on the web and so on, that are the “property” of the institution and inhabited by individuals employed to the role (a user employed as web-embedded Science librarian must use the weblibrarian_science account for example), or the should the liking, research librarian search history and so on be carried out by individuals using their personal Google accounts? In the former case, when an indivudal leaves the role, they also leave behind the persona and the machine advantage it brings (e.g. in terms of pesonal search recommendations) they have developed.
Time was when academics used to leave behind valuable collections of books and papers (valuable in the sense of being a particular collection). We’re now getting to a stage where you if work with machines that learn from your actions, that learning is valuable. So who has a right to it? (I think it wouldnlt be too hard to push this argument into the realm of transhumanism and “downloading”?!)
PS It seems that Google+ may now be influencing personalised search results, tweaking them include public Google+ updates from members of your Google+ Circles: The latest update to Google Social Search: Public Google+ Posts
PPS related…. although this may not be a true story (/via @charlesarthur), could we expect to start seeing things like this? Bruce Willis May Sue Apple Over Right To Bequeath His iTunes Library