Search Takes a Social Turn

New York Times Technology

By JENNA WORTHAM

Now, even on the Internet, it is not what you know but who you know.

After a decade when search engines ruled supreme — tapping billions of Web pages to answer every conceivable query — many people now prefer getting their online information the old-fashioned way: by yakking across the fence.

Turning to friends is the new rage in the Web world, extending far beyond established social networking sites and setting off a rush among Web companies looking for ways to help people capitalize on the wisdom of their social circles — and to make some money in the process.

“What your friends think and what people like you think is much more relevant than what everybody thinks,” said Augie Ray, an analyst with Forrester Research.

Amazon.com now allows its shoppers to connect to their Facebook accounts so that Amazon can display their friends’ favorite books, films and other products. TunerFish, a start-up owned by Comcast, lets users share what television shows and movies they are watching, mapping out an up-to-the-minute TV guide of programs gaining in popularity among their friends.

And Loopt, a location-focused social network with 3.4 million registered users, recently began showing them which of their friends liked a particular restaurant.

“We’ve gotten a tremendous response from that,” said Sam Altman, a co-founder. Mr. Altman said that one’s network of friends “is an incredible predictor of what you will like.”

On Google and other search engines, searches for things like hotels or electronics can turn up a lot of online clutter and spam. Instead, many people informally poll their friends for recommendations, often through social networks like Facebook and Twitter.

“Improving search has always been about improving relevance,” Mr. Ray of Forrester said. “But the thinking now is that getting information from your immediate social network is what will really make results more relevant.”

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