Recently I wrote about the potential for social search and why no-one was currently owning it among the big social networks and search giants. The social search tool Wajam is showing us however, how social search can really be done with their impressive plugin. Rather than working like a normal social site, where you go there to search through public postings on social networks, Wajam works specifically by searching through your friends' information, both public and private to give you incredibly personalised and relevant results. Importantly however, rather than giving you exclusive social search results, the information is presented alongside normal search results across a range of sites, including Google, Yahoo and Amazon.
Wajam is easy to sign up to and install, working through Facebook Connect or authenticating with Twitter to pull in your personalised results. Once the plugin is installed, it's simply a case of searching to access social results. As shown in the screenshot below, the results appear in Google above the SERP :
The search experience extends across Amazon, where you might be looking specifically for product information or inspiration :
By default Wajam will pull in the search results of the network you connected with - either Facebook or Twitter - but there are options to customise the results further by bringing in contacts and information from other social networks. You can do this once the plugin is installed, by going back to Wajam and clicking on 'Sources' along the top. Here you can add sources from Facebook, Twitter, Google +, Google Buzz, your bookmarks and Delicious :
Why Wajam has the edge
Wajam may just be about to completely blow open the area of social search because they've done two things right. Firstly they've turned the idea of social search on it's head by making it more personalised. While efforts in social search now have been looking more at how to pull in realtime, rated or popular content into search results, Wajam focuses specifically on results provided by your friends. Arguably people have a lot more interest in what their friends have to say about certain topics, than people they're not connected to on social networks and Wajam have recognised this. Though there is a good opportunity there to include an option to toggle to search results from outside your network, to increase the yield of search results. A slight downside is that sometimes the site pulls in results that are older or returns no results, so an option to click to expand your search to the wider network would improve the experience.
Secondly, Wajam has the edge because they haven't tried to drive the user to their own site in order to benefit from the experience. The way that we search now, we're unlikely to have the time or the inclination to go to another site completely and forego the results we value through Google or Twitter. And while Wajam do offer a general search functionality within your own site, the emphasis is on bringing their search experience across the web, to travel with the user wherever they go. In a similar way to how the Like button was deployed, they bring a connected experience that fits seamlessly across a variety of sites.
The future is in partnerships
While the functionality of Wajam can't be disputed, I wonder how valuable the site will be while it retains the need to download a plugin. While for those of us that use the internet more regularly or are more savvy, downloading a plugin is no big deal at all, it could potentially put a lot of people off. The future for Wajam could well be in partnerships, where their results are embedded in Google, Yahoo or Amazon for example, without the need to download a plugin for it to work. And now that Google have ended their agreement with Twitter, there seems a pretty handy space to fill for realtime results to be pulled in through a service like Wajam. If they get this integration right, we could just be looking at the future of social search.
By smart integration and partnerships, Wajam can help to prove the value in social search overall. For regular users of social media, social search isn't something that's particularly needed or considered. I've had endless conversations about Facebook's search functionality, to search posts by people in your network or by 'everyone' and many people don't even realise this function is there, or see a particular use for it. In this sense, smart social search could be the next step in turning social networks beyond a purely social experience and into a complete platform for research and discovering information. This has yet to cross over into the mainstream or Facebook users, and social search is intrinsic to this.