She predicts that the future will have search and networks converging to make everything we do more social, without the need for special places to go. This may still be a few years away, however.
Some examples she provided on how this would happen were custom searches on Amazon where you see only the reviews if people in your network and a personalized CPM for publications like the New York Times.
Would you be more likely to read something that someone you see as influential in your network is reading?
The problem with many of the social network activities today, including ads on Facebook, is that they require you, the user and profile owner, to do something explicitly. You need to select, or like, or share. What would happen if the preference or selection were made explicit by your search and navigation behavior? For example, finding people with similar interests at SxSWi before coming to the event.
To make social networks "like air", Li points to three essential components:
- Identity - who you are
- Contacts - what you know
- Activities - what you do in the context of those activities
The two current standards that exist to being this relationship between search and networks are (1) Facebook Connect, which is still just a vehicle to bring people into Facebook but not the other way around and (2) the new Open Stack platform supported by supported by MySpace ID, Google FriendConnect, LinkedIn and the OpenSocial movement.
Why would everyone open up? Since most social activity happens outside the main networks, the simple answer is money.
Why would we put up with it? The money motive is going to be the trade off for social activity. We're still in the infancy of this movement or conversation between search and networks, and certainly privacy is a big concern. These are the early days as much as the Web was taking baby steps at the time Tim Bernes-Lee created the foundation of what we see today as the social web.
Given this premise and the possibility that social networks may become more transparent, Li recommended companies evaluate where social networks make sense:
- Identify where social networks data and content can/should be integrated in the experience
- Leverage existing identity and social graphs where your audience already is, e.g., Facebook Connect
- Get your privacy and permission policies and processes aligned with an open strategy
- Find your trust agents - "in Google I trust" or will it be Facebook?
The announcements made earlier in the day about Facebook Connect were certainly good news for moving into that direction. With the problem of having multiple sign-ins to different networks, another issue that is in the way of convergence between search and networks is that of multiple personalities.
Like many, I tend to keep my LinkedIn profile more for business and professional contacts, and other social networks for a more personal experience. Sorting these issues out is not going to be a walk in the park. The privacy concerns might even start being addressed by permission layers on the data in our social graph - "context makes content privacy easier, and social signals provide a shorthand for our mental map of relationships," said Li.
We've talked about marketing by context building. The solution for businesses looking to be found by and connect with customers and potential customers, as well as their networks, may look to get better not just at creating content worth sharing, but also provide a place where OpenID meets networks.