By William Buist

The ‘societal web’ is beginning to emerge.

Businesses are moving from telling to listening, from informing opinion to facilitating collaborative insight, from one to many and from mono-media to infinite-media. The challenge for us all during this transition will be on how we can continue to maintain our income streams and on how we can adapt to the changing world.

When the web first appeared it was ‘Read Only’ and businesses presented their products and services for people to browse. In our opinion we are heading to the development of sharing as a way of working, of collaborating, in a community environment, by all, for the benefit of that community.


Those who gather around your ideas and subject matter become your society, your community, but they set the context and the culture, it’s no longer defined by the owner of the infrastructure.
This is the Societal Web.


How search is changing

Searching on the Societal Web is becoming more sophisticated over time. The initial search engine developments through companies such as Google and Yahoo focused on providing a swift route to finding pre-existing content.


In Web 1.0 most sites were relatively static and were informational, in that they were intended to be read by those interested in the subject matter that they discussed. As Web 2.0 and the Societal Web develop and user-generated content became the norm, the volume of information and the extent of web pages changed dramatically. Progressively, websites have to be dynamic in order to be interesting.


Looking back or looking now;
In doing a conditional search using one of the search engines all the existing active web pages are available to be found, but some may be several years out of date. Whilst the search engines make efforts to ensure that new content is more strongly featured than old content where information is relatively unchanging (but one example of where things not changing is an indication of accuracy is Wikipedia ); such an approach may erroneously bring new but incorrect material to the top of a search engine list. These challenges have faced the search engines for some time.


User-generated content however has an immediacy about it. It’s reflecting what’s currently happening. Users of Twitter who understand the #hashtags can follow a particular event simply by tracking what individuals are saying using a particular hashtag. For sporting events and fast-moving news stories, it’s often as quick to follow what’s happening on Twitter using these facilities and their searches than it is to watch using traditional media and through the news.


There is, therefore, a move by both the search engines and Twitter and other similar social network sites to provide search that offers a means to access both historical knowledge and current activity. These changes are being integrated into the search engines including Google which now includes a number of options to allows you just to search, for example, content that’s been added to the web in the last week, or the last month, or the last year. That is still, of course, historic, and as Twitter moves to more real-time searching so the search engines on sites such as Twitter and Facebook and other Societal Web sites is having to cope with an ever growing volume of historical data in their databases.


Balance and Authority;
Between the two I think there is a balance and I suspect that searching will develop into three specific areas;


Firstly, searching the historic record looking for long-standing, unchanging, reliable authoritative articles that provide good background and factual information


Secondly, great real-time search looking at what people are talking about right now, primarily being used for news, current events, sports events and so on


In between, a combination of the two, the third option; looking at tying historic, authoritative data with current authoritative people


This is the most interesting area. Allowing search to look at who has provided good links to authoritative data and who is recognised by others as an authority in their area will enable the search engines and the Societal Web sites to tie good quality content, that meets the needs of the person searching, by relying on the authority of the people that have provided the links to that information in the past.


That’s a whole new area and it’s one that is only just beginning to emerge; we should watch it with interest.


About the Author: William Buist is Managing Director of Abelard Management Services, which specialises in building trust in teams and communities within its corporate and SME client base.


You can hear interviews with William Buist on this site – simply type his name into the search box at the top right of this page.

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