Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
July 21, 2009 9:53 PM

Forget The Search Engine. Bring On The Referral Engine

Not a day goes by that someone, somewhere is not Blogging, Tweeting or commenting by the water-cooler about what the next generation of search engines will look like.

As every new search engine that comes on the market knows, the best publicity is to claim yourself to be the "Google Killer." As we know, this tactic rarely works and try as they may, Google is still the 800-pound-gorilla when it comes to the majority of searches in North America. In looking at the popularity of platforms like Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed and Reddit coupled with information we see in places like the Edelman Trust Barometer or what drives a sales in places like Amazon, it is clear that what really drives conversion(and this could be a sale, data collection or even simple consumer queries) is a referral. There's a reason places like TripAdvisor work: consumers want unbiased information that is created by their peers (whether they know them personally or not) and not by brands or big corporations.

Where is the best place to find [fill in the blank]?

We use a search engine to find the answer if there's no one within earshot, and we do this because this is all that we have had to date. In March of this year, I Blogged about the power behind Twitter here: Twitter Is Not Going After Facebook. Twitter Is Going After Google. The truth is that Twitter can't be much of a search engine unless you have put in some serious time to build some kind of community. Many of the other referral engines act in a similar way - they are more online social network than trust referral engines where anyone can really harness the power of the wisdom of crowds.

All of that is going to change.

The "next" Google is going to look nothing like Google. It is going to be less about optimizing your website content so that it ranks high in a search engine and much more about displaying rank based on what others have said and done (and what real people have done with this information). While this may sound strange, weird and a little bit "out there," think about what type of content you would trust most: a website that returns results based on how effective they have optimized the text on their website or a collection of insights (positive, negative and neutral) from many independent and verified sources?

The search engine wars are about to heat up all over again, but this time, it's not going to be against one another, it's going to be against the new players who leverage the power of aggregation and editing to deliver real human powered answers and insights.

By Mitch Joel