Michael Arrington’s post about search optimized content creation (“The end of hand crafted content“) started an interesting discussion about the role of social media in differentiating good content from bad content (check out Fred Wilson’s “Why social beats search” and the counterargument by Chris Dixon arguing that passed links will be critical inputs to better search-ranking algorithms but not replace search). I am with Chris on this one and see search and social media complementing each other rather than one replacing the other. We should also keep in mind that social media only does a good job in identfying “head” content but does not play a significant role when it comes to long-tail content. If I have a very specific question that I need an answer for I will always turn to search and not to my group of friends as chances are slim that those friends will have the right answer for me. Last but not least, I would like to remind everybody who complains about search spammers that social media is exposed to spamming in the same extent that search is – where there is money to be made, spammers will find ways to game the system and social media is and will not be an exception. So while social media might probably be the best way to discover current content, search will dominate long-tail content but both will have their spamming challenges
This brings up the question if there might be a third way to identify quality content and such a third way could be based on observing users’ implicit behavior. The big advantage of such an approach would be that it is very hard to game. One of the most developed approaches in this respect is Tynt Insight which tracks the copy and paste actions of users on a particular website. Tynt is now tracking over 7 billions page views / month and has collected some interesting data on how users are interacting with content and what this means for the quality of such content. So tracking implicit user behavior might supplement both page rank and passed links to create better ways to differentiate the good from the bad content. And as content creation is exploding, we definitely need to do a better job at that.
Disclosure: I am an investor in Tynt.