Monthly Archives: February 2011

The Big Shift from Search to Social

I have yet another explanation for the phenomenon that Julio Vazquez describes in a post with a bit of an accusatory title “Technical communicators need to share more.” Nothing like a title that accuses you to grab attention, a good example of how to write effective titles for blog posts.

I especially focused on his difficulty finding information about wikis for technical documentation, where he says “Using Google brought me far more results than I cared to walk through. ” I’d summarize his experience as “I need information on a specific topic, and I did a Google search, which usually gives me a good list thanks to their PageRank algorithm, but it failed me this time.”

One of the reasons it failed is that one of the keywords he was searching for is “wiki,” which is metadata for a type of web content engine, so way too many of the sites containing info about wikis contain the word wiki. Make sense? I ran into that plenty of times while researching my book. I don’t have a good workaround to offer there.

wiki neon sign

Another explanation for the failure is that content farms and black hat SEO so-called-experts are clogging your results thanks to attempts at gaming Google’s system. Huge public story on a recent failure – the Dirty Little Secrets of Search as reported by the New York Times. Yowsa. My jaw dropped a couple of times while reading that article. SEO gaming is not necessarily what’s going on with wikis and tech comm, but I think that the web is getting fuller and making it harder to find what you seek.

Lastly, counts on click-throughs on Google searches may soon be surpassed by counts on click-throughs on social sites. Think about this for a moment. This means Julio and others are realizing what he wrote about in his post – you are more likely to get useful links by asking your friends and colleagues about certain topics than you are going to get them by searching on Google. This finding is a serious disruption for the web, if it turns out to be true. I haven’t seen studies yet that have numbers to support this claim, but I’ve seen it in slide decks about social support communities, community management, and the like. The starting point to measure the shift is in the numbers of visitors to certain sites. Forbes wrote an article titled “Google Finds No Friend In Facebook As Social Surpasses Search” just last month. This shift is A Big Deal. Watch for freakouts everywhere, and lots of opportunities for people who understand how to run a social, collaborative, community-building business.

One such example of opportunity found and met well is the Stack Exchange sites, especially Stack Overflow for programmers. They grew from 7 million visitors to 16 million in 2010. They garnered 3 million visitors in just 4 months at the beginning. Joel Spolsky completely understands how a strong, reputation-based community gives you a boost in the business world and with your friends and colleagues. He “gets” how reputation systems and FAQs are a great marriage for technical topics. People are even talking about the use of Stack Overflow points for your resume. This is the type of site I’m keeping my eye on for the tech comm world, especially if as a technical communicator you offer support, something that I’m deeply embedded on with OpenStack and as a Rackspace fanatical employee. I’m delighted to see technical publishing get the attention its getting through the Stack Exchange sites that offer “free, community-powered Q&A.” Community power, indeed.