Social search startup Mechanical Zoo, founded by a number of ex-Google employees, has raised USD0.75m in convertible debt from angel investors. According to reports, the company is building an application that will enable users to perform a subjective search based on preferences amongst their group of friends or social graph.
Harnessing users social connections to improve relevancy in search is a key growth area. Incorporating the social graph into search ranking has the potential to have a huge impact on search, and in a way that is not contingent on extra engagement from the user.
As internet users are increasingly spending time using online applications that harness their networks, the ability for this information to be applied to filter search relevantly is becoming a real possibility. However, social search startups face a number of challenges:
Firstly, harnessing the social graph in search throws up problems: How do you evaluate the value of different social connections to filter relevantly? Does it depend on the extent of a users online activity and how integrated they really are? If this is the case, does it prohibit its own utility to a number of users? How effective will it really be?
Secondly, aggregating a user base could prove a challenge. Searches where a social context may be relevant to the user may be a niche area, and it may not work if it operates independently from social portals. Whilst disruptive technologies are moving the market in this direction, whether users adopt these services is yet to be seen. Moreover, startups entering the consumer-search market face high barriers to entry, lacking the capital to achieve the scalability and reach to make an indent in the market.
Social search startups need to watch out for players with a first mover advantage in aggregating social online activity that can integrate search functions – such as FriendFeeds search – and make a Mechanical Zoo obsolete. If social search is going to gain market share it may be better applied to particular search verticals or as a feature on top of social portals, rather than operating independently.