When to use social search to supplement Google search…

By Laura Bergells on

You can ask Google almost anything. But at the moment, you have to use your words.

Today, I can’t show Google a photo of an unknown thing and ask, “What is this thing?”

For such queries, social search might be a better option. You can post a photo on your blog, on Twitter, on Facebook, on YouTube, on Flickr — and ask your friends. After wading through guesses and jokes, you might want to use Google to verify the answers!

Before the popularity of online social search, I used my favorite social network: face-to-face. I’d ask friends and colleagues, “What is this?” In the case of the unknown object seen in the YouTube video posted below, it took about 5 years of lighthearted cocktail party conversations before I found a correct answer.

Today, I’m posting the object online for the first time. I’m going to guess that it’s going to take a considerably shorter amount of time than 5 years for someone to see this and correctly identify the object.

My three questions to you are:

1) how long before we’re able to show Google a photo of an object and have Google correctly identify the object?

2) under what other circumstances might you use social search to supplement Google search?

3) what is the ‘thing’ in the video?


  1. After I shot this video, my boyfriend comes home from a reunion with a mix CD. An old friend of his pressed the CD, and cut personal tracks dedicated to every individual at the reunion.

    So we listened to my boyfriend’s special track. We love the song & know we listened to it in the 1970’s. But the song has no lyrics and we can’t remember the name of the song or the band.

    We can’t Google it — so playing the song for friends is our next “social search” play!

    Party on with social search.

  2. That’s sadly true, Dave! Also, apps like Soundhound would probably let me know, too. (But it’s more fun to pester my friends…)

  3. The item looks to me like a plant/moss terrarium (you may be holding it sideways; then vent should curl horizontally over the top).

    I think we are getting close to doing a visual search (upload a pic and have it analyzed). I imagine one difficult part of the technology was identifying the object in a photo separate from its background. Now that background removal is simple (it’s even a basic tool included in Word – see my Twitter profile pic for an example) I think it is only a matter of a very short time. The database of images already exists, now just the shape/color match has to be created.

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