Microsoft just announced a research project called U Rank, which aims to do pretty much just that. You rank search results, share with friends, blah blah blah. Basically it’s Mahalo with Microsoft branding plus a few trinkets. And it’s backed by Live Search so you can feel confident the baseline results will be easy to beat. According to their website, here are some of the things you might do with U Rank:
- Organize and annotate results: write notes to summarize important information under each URL
- Lists: keep lists while you’re researching
- Collaboration: Share URLs with friends
- Recommendations: Tell your friends what you like
- Multimedia results: Mix video and images with web results for added context
- Ego-boosting: Make sure your home page is #1 (at least for you and your friends)
- Easy to explore what your friends are sharing
- Short-cuts: Move your favorite sites up; then put an ! in front of the query and go straight to the top result
The first two are great and are obviously missing from other services like Google, though Google has means of achieving those things other than their main search product (e.g. Google Bookmarks and Google Notebook). Mixing in video and multimedia content is ok, I reckon. Doing it manually, though? Meh. The last one is probably useless. It will be fun for the first couple days and then you’ll return to using bookmarks or whatever you do already to keep track of favorite sites.
The rest of the features are social networking junk. The third is somewhat useful, but when you want to share something with friends, you normally want to push it on them and make sure they get it. So you IM them the link or email it to them. I’m not sure any link I’ve shared on a website or in Google Reader has ever been viewed by anyone else. The fourth one is no different than sharing the link in my mind. I wonder what the use case for that is. If it’s automated recommendations, that might be cool, though I’ve never seen it done well except for on StumbleUpon, and that’s more because the UI makes it easy to ignore bad recommendations.
Like Mahalo and Wikia Search, the main features require critical mass in community size. What good is sharing crap with my friends if none of my friends use U Rank? And ego-boosting is a fun toy for about 2 minutes until you realize it’s just information masturbation.
“Hey, ma, I’m number one in the search results! Look at it on your computer.”
“You’re still on page 16 for me, dear.”
And yes, I’ve done it. Just search for “mendicant bug” on Wikia.
So minus critical mass, U Rank is Live Search with window dressing and some annotation tools. The annotation tools will probably be worth checking out, but will it be enough to lure me away from the trusted Googles? I highly doubt it.
I’m just not sold on this whole user-driven search idea. With web search you are searching a ginormous collection of transient documents. Human annotation can’t keep up with it. That’s the whole point! In order for it to, you’d need a lot of people using the service, and you’re just not going to get that. As it stands right now, Google gets about 60% of the market share for searches. Yahoo comes in a very distant second with about 20% and the rest are floating at under 10%. Mahalo and friends get less than 3% of the search engine market share to divy up amongst themselves. Is that enough to provide meaningful results? Jason Calacanis might think so, but I’m skeptical.