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May 2, 2006

Does RawSugar tell the future of search?

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Robert Scoble takes another look at the tag-based search engine RawSugar and says while it may not be a Google killer straight out of the gate, it could be a ‘game changer for bloggers’. I agree RawSugar has a multitude of benefits for bloggers, but my main interest is in the impact it could have on regular search.

How does it change the game? Scoble offers up his own site as an example. Check out the tags on the left-hand side that let users easily target their search and get a visual glimpse of Scoble’s depth of content. Seeing the topics most often targeted by Microsoft’s technical evangelist also gives users a clearer picture of what Scoble’s blog is about. Scoble notes that RawSugar is the first engine to do this, though it did take some setting up on Scoble’s part for his site to appear that way.

RawSugar is a guided search engine that provides users with relevant topics for their search right at the top level. Users can quickly narrow results by selecting the tags and subtopics that most pertain to their search.

With RawSugar, bloggers and Web publishers can quickly and easily publish a hierarchical directory of URLs, providing users with a better way to organize, share and search information on the Web. The engine even suggests the best topics to help users refine their search and find the most relevant information quicker.

Loren Baker blogged Sunday that he feels the future of SEO includes the ‘expansion of web page quality and categorical definition beyond site content’ — in other words, tagging. The usefulness of hierarchical tagging to search and social definition is that it enables users to quickly browse and scroll through relevant category suggestions, letting them pinpoint their search, while creating a network of users with shared interests.

Sites like Technorati, del.icio.us and Looksmart’s Furl.net are examples of other sites using this technology. Google has already begun testing a new interface for Web categories. It’s only a matter of time before tags and categorized search makes its way into normal, everyday search.

The technology is there; SEOs and marketers can capitalize on it by understanding how users tag sites and by using these tags to create social hierarchies. Though tagging may seem similar to using Meta tags to describe your site’s content, the difference lies in who is doing the defining. With Meta tags, it’s the site owners’ defining what they think a site is about. Tagging allows the user to define it. Which one do you think is more accurate?

Marketers should pay close attention to how others tag their sites, as well as add them to directories such as the ones found in RawSugar and other applications. Listing yourself in these social search settings will enable your site to be included for its related tag words and appear in social searches. Hey kids, tags are this season’s keywords.

Just don’t go abandoning your traditional SEO tactics in the process. There are still plenty of bugs in the social search system (remember what happened to Digg?) and not everyone is a fan of the tagging system. In fact, though Scoble seems to be behind RawSugar, he publicly denounced social aggregator site Memorandum back in October, saying linking to them just added to the blogosphere’s ‘echo chamber’.

Social searches have been receiving hoards of backlash lately for their ‘rich get richer’ tendency of promoting stories written by a small pool of authors or stories that have already received a lot of public attention. The result is lots of excellent original content is being passed up as the same stories get tagged over and over. In its early stages, social search is a lot like high school – a good idea, but highly susceptible to group think.

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