Stefan Weitz on Quora Integration and Social Data Sets


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photo of Stefan WeitzStefan Weitz is a Director of Search at Microsoft and is charged with working with people and organizations across the industry to promote and improve Search technologies. While focused on Microsoft’s product line, he works across the industry to understand searcher behavior and in his role as an evangelist for Search, gathers and distills feedback to drive product improvements. Prior to Search, Stefan led the strategy to develop the next generation MSN portal platform and developed Microsoft’s muni WiFi strategy, leading the charge to blanket free WiFi access across metropolitan cities. A 13-year Microsoft veteran, he has worked in various groups including Windows Server, Security, and IT. Stefan is a huge gadget “junkie” and can often be found in electronics shops across the world looking for the elusive perfect piece of tech. You can follow Stefan on Twitter.

Key Points

  1. Quora is one of the latest networks that Bing has socially integrated into search. Quora helps to disambiguate and make sense of some of the different facets of certain search terms.
  2. The goal of using Quora (and other social integrations Bing is doing) is to replicate the very human characteristic of involving others in decision-making.
  3. Actions, opinions, and recommendations are happening all around us, it’s not as if we need to say anymore or do anymore. We need something (like Bing) to find that little needle in the information haystack and bring it right into your search experience.
  4. Bing is continuing to add more networks to it’s social integration. The focus is to find the best method to expose the networks in a way that fits in the search experience.

Full Interview Transcript

Eric Enge: Hi. I’m Eric Enge, I’m the CEO of Stone Temple Consulting. We are a holistic internet marketing optimization firm. Whatever that is! I’m here again with Stefan Weitz in what’s becoming a regular series of discussions about new social integrations from Bing. How cool is that?

Stefan Weitz: It’s very cool, and Eric, I think you can just basically say you’re the premier digital, online, SEO/SEM, marketing service on the whole planet, and you’d be fine.

Eric Enge: That’s excellent. But, it’s much better when you say it than when I do. So, the case of wine or whatever it is you choose is going to be shipped to you…

Stefan Weitz: I’d like some Metromint water. That would be great.

Eric Enge: Yeah. Here we are, by the way, both showing our unshaven looks. So, I think shows that the search industry remains a casual place to hangout.

Stefan Weitz: I did shower.

Eric Enge: Yes, a brief reintroduction to you would be great.

Stefan Weitz: Sure. My name is Stefan Weitz, as it was last time. I work at Bing. I do a lot of work with start-ups, entrepreneurs, academics, and venture capitalists to really understand where search is going and how to advance the state of the art. Then, I work with the product teams both to help incorporate those things into the product, as well as evangelize those things once they actually reach the product.

Quora LogoEric Enge: Cool. I really like that you’re continuing these social integrations. The latest is Quora. Tell us a little bit about that.

Stefan Weitz: Quora is a great one. It’s one of those things that we looked at. We always, in the back of our head, we wanted to go and tap this data set, because it is such a different set than, say, Facebook or Twitter, or what not. In many cases you get these layers of answers and they’re layers for answers on a variety of topics. I’m just looking at the stream here coming in. I see Jodie Foster was one that had a high Quora. There must have been a discussion on Quora about that.

…Quora expands the canvas of what one could talk about when looking for particular things online.

Now, you could get a bunch of information on Jodie Foster in standard search, and you could even maybe see one of your friends liked the movie she was in with our current implementation of social search in the sidebar. But really, Quora expands the canvas of what one could talk about when looking for particular things online.

Eric Enge: It’s very interesting. You’re really tapping into human research done by a wide variety of individuals in response to a very wide variety of questions.

Stefan Weitz: I think what’s so cool about it is I think of it almost as a faceted model. Because, what it allows you to do is take something like – let’s see what’s popping here right now. American Express, OkCupid, these things are popping up. Now, American Express is a big, very ambiguous term, a very ambiguous phrase.

…we’re relying on the power of people to help disambiguate and help make sense of the these utterances that we’re seeing in search engines.

With the ability of things like Quora, you’ve got this ability to now look at all these different potential facets about what people are saying on American Express. Is it about the cards? Is it about commercials? Is it about rewards points? Is it about how to avoid late fees and what not? Who knows? But really, we’re relying on the power of people to help disambiguate and help make sense of these utterances that we’re seeing in search engines.

Eric Enge: I’m guessing that you’re going to get – I’m going to try to phrase this the right way – a more human flavor to the information you’re getting. Not that you don’t get a human flavor on websites. But because of the overhead that it takes to put something on a website, even a blog, it tends to be a little less raw than it might be in a Quora type environment. Does that make sense?

Stefan Weitz: I think so. I think you’re getting more – not quite real-time, I’d say, because that’s really where we see a lot of value in Twitter and what not, although Quora is updated very, very frequently, as well. But you’re getting, again, different angle. The whole point of what we were doing when it came to all the social integration was to say, “How do people in real life actually do things?” And they do things by talking to others about topics. We very rarely do anything at all in a vacuum.

So, the notion and the ability for us to take this open approach to beat the system and embed all these partners right in the social sidebar. To replicate that very human emotion and very human characteristic of involving others in decision making, we think, is the next evolution of search, because, up until now, it’s been a mathematical process.

Eric Enge: I think that’s a good thread here, which is this notion that you are tapping into different kinds of data sets. I scratched down some notes for this call just to remind myself of some of these things. It’s like personal opinion is something that you’ll get this way, like when someone thinks about a restaurant, for example. We talked about that last time, with the Foursquare or things like that.

A debate is taking place, and tapping it and seeing that a debate is taking place in a way that might not be as readily exposed on a website. Also, just very personal bits of knowledge that… So there are different kinds of data sets. Does that make sense that these are some of the kinds of things that are coming out?

…it’s not as if we need to say anymore or do anymore… [we need] to find that little needle in the information haystack and bring it into your search experience…

Stefan Weitz: Yeah. It’s not just about the different data… You’re absolutely right. But what’s really, I think, fascinating is that all these conversations are happening everywhere around us, all the time. Unlike the days of Yore, many of them are being recorded, either typed directly, or recorded verbally, or recorded as a podcast, in a speech. So, it’s not as though we need to say anymore or do anymore. But the ability for now, for something like Bing to find that little needle in the information haystack and bring it right into your search experience right when you think you might need it…

Eric Enge: Right.

Stefan Weitz: …that’s the magic. That’s why it’s so cool, is because all the things you pointed out. Those are all things that get blown out into the ether. But until now, you’ve had no real way to, especially seamlessly inside a search and get those things injected into the experience.

Eric Enge: Right. Effectively, at some level you’re recording and making dialog searchable.

Stefan Weitz: That’s right. You’re making dialog searchable and you’re actually enabling dialog from within the sidebar. If you remember correctly, in the sidebar you can actually start conversations with Facebook friends and what not about different topics. So, the ability again to look at that natural human inclination to engage in a conversation when making a decision, which 90% of us do that. We’re hardwired that way.

Eric Enge: Right.

Stefan Weitz: So we said, “How can we reduce the friction online?” That’s why the sidebar came about. That’s why your different data sources come about. That’s why we allow you to have these conversations in that sidebar, to actually help you get feedback information from people you might now on different topics.

Eric Enge: It fits into a theme that I’ve been speaking about lately, which is trying to get publishers of websites to really stop thinking about, “Gee, how am I going to get more traffic from search, or how am I going to get more traffic from social?” It’s like, “Okay, what’s my strategy to get more business from the web, and not view them as separate things?”

It’s not one over here. It’s not one there. It’s an ecosystem, and you really want to address the whole thing. That’s because, I think there is so much integration that’s natural to all of us.

Stefan Weitz: Well, I think you’re on a cusp, because today a lot of them are still siloed. But with things like Bing Social Search, where we’re bringing multiple streams together, now you’re going to… We’ve announced a bunch of partners we’re going to work with. You’ll see a lot more coming out in the next few months as well.

But you’re absolutely right. Making sure you think about your presence holistically across all these different areas is super-important. Because what we’re going to be doing on the back-end is the synthesis of all those signals and all that data into something that makes sense given the context of the query.

Eric Enge: So, as always I have to ask what’s next. What’s in the queue for things…

We have a backlog of a number of [networks] that we’ve named already and some of them we haven’t… the challenge that we’re finding now is simply, what’s the best method or what’s the best way to expose those networks?

Stefan Weitz: Well, I’d love to tell you, but I have an electric shock collar permanently attached to the back of my spine. But I can tell you in broad strokes that the continued social integration, you’ll see more networks coming in. That we have a backlog of a number who some of them we’ve named already and some of them we haven’t. That the challenge that we’re finding now is simply, what’s the best method or what’s the best way to expose those networks? Like, what’s the right query to expose, say, a LinkedIn profile? Is it a company? Is it a specific intent thing around salary or job search, or what not?

Those are the type of questions we’re asking because you run the risk, obviously, of just putting too much in that sidebar. Then it becomes this mish mash of social detritus. You know?

Eric Enge: Yeah.

Stefan Weitz: So, really honing the intent models, understanding those intent models so we can actually derive what you’re actually asking. Then, understanding which social corpus has the most relevant piece information or person, or whatever it might be in that catalog to show. That’s where we’re just amazingly excited, I think.

Eric Enge: Right, awesome. Well, thanks for joining us today, Stefan, and congratulations on the new release.

Stefan Weitz: Thanks, Eric. I appreciate that. Talk to you soon.

Eric Enge: Absolutely.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Eric Enge
Eric Enge is a partner at Stone Temple Consulting (STC), which has been providing SEO Consulting services for over 5 years. STC has worked with a wide range of clients, ranging from small silicon valley start-ups, to Fortune 25 companies. Eric is also co-author of The Art of SEO book.


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