Around the Water Cooler: Shared Discussion Topics and Contact Closeness in Social Search


Search engines are now augmenting search results with social annotations, i.e., endorsements from users’ social network contacts. However, there is currently a dearth of published research on the effects of these annotations on user choice. This work investigates two research questions associated with annotations: 1) do some contacts affect user choice more than others, and 2) are annotations relevant across various information needs. We conduct a controlled experiment with 355 participants, using hypothetical searches and annotations, and elicit users’ choices. We find that domain contacts are preferred to close contacts, and this preference persists across a variety of information needs. Further, these contacts need not be experts and might be identified easily from conversation data.