This week Microsoft announced an investment in social influence company Klout as a part of an integration with the Bing search engine. While some writers lauded the intiative, I find it another curious direction to take search.
Let me explain what I mean by that:
What does Klout-embellished Bing hope to accomplish?
The big question that Bing appears to banking on (at least somewhat) is that individual recommendations are an important factor in search. It’s the same thought that Mark Zuckerberg espoused a couple of weeks ago when discussing search.
The problem with that argument are the examples that Zuckerberg and the like bring up: best sushi restaurants in New York, should I read Twilight or not. This isn’t the way that people are currently searching.
Consider the top search terms of 2011: Rebecca Black, Google+, Ryan Dunn, Casey Anthony, Battlefield 3, iPhone 5, Adele, TEPCO, Steve Jobs, and iPad 2. Would an individual recommendation or insight be more informing to these searches than the SERP offered by Google or Bing?
I can see Klout muddying the SERP somewhat, with the scenario where Klout may assist search as advertised is much further down the long tail. Not a huge selling point for integration.
What does a Klout score inform?
I think there are three schools of thought with what a Klout score informs:
1. It’s an accurate reflection of a person’s capability to persuade others online
2. It’s a way (however accurate) to determine aptitude towards social media
3. It’s worthless
If a person believes that a Klout score is an accurate indication of online influence, how does the brandishing of said Klout score help to inform a search decision? It may qualify someone as more apt in social media than others, but does that make their insight more viable for search? Does Guy Kawasaki have more credibility to recommend a brand of tampons because he has a high Klout score? If not, is the intellgence built into search so that someone more credible in that area is informing search? If you believe that topics will do that, I’ll remind you that I am the #1 ranked Klout expert in David Hasselhoff.
I would guess that the second scenario is where most people fall – believing that there is some opaque relevance to be gleaned from Klout, but that it is by-and-large inaccurate. These folks will be like the first group but even more skeptical of a recommendation tied to a Klout score.
The last group of people may find the prevalence of Klout scores in search unsettling, or they could just ignore it.
Point being that despite your viewpoint of Klout, the addition of Klout isn’t going to improve search noticably.
The paradox of choice: Klout wins, Microsoft loses
There’s a great book called The Paradox of Choice written by Barry Schwartz which talks about our tendency to be overwhelmed with a great deal of choice. When Bing transitioned in May to a simpler design people raved about it: ”I’m a fan of less clutter.” Mary Jo Foley wrote. As it turns out many of us are. In his book Schwartz gives examples how when faced with myriad choices, customers either don’t buy or buy cheap. As Bing adds the amount of sidebars, data and ancillary information – one wonders if Bing users will be likewise overwhelmed by the choices offered?
Take a look at Bing now and it is more cluttered than ever. On the front page do you want to search? See recent searches? See photos? See trending searches? Videos? Compare Bing to Google? Visit MSN? So much for simplicity – and you haven’t even gone to the SERP with its social sidebar. It’s a lot.
There’s no question that Klout wins big in their Bing integration: not only do they get paid but they get increased exposure to a group (older Americans) who have not been exposed to Klout previously. They get more participants for social advertising and get higher visibility which serves to legitimize them. It’s a win in that regard.
But what does Microsoft win? Access to Klout’s data (which they could have pulled on the cheap)? Increase in user experience? A poor-man’s author attribution? Better social data? Whatever the benefit, Klout certainly doesn’t make Bing a decidedly better product.
Bing seems to want to give its users the kitchen sink and let them figure out what to do with it. The end result may be they give users so many options and data points that they revert to Google.