Imagine you’re looking for information that is complicated, too new to be part of an knowledge base, or too valuable for you to make it public. You might turn to friends via Instant Messaging.
If none of the friends in your IM buddy list have a clue about the information, you either give up this search method or resort to intensive personal helps from a friend who transfers questions and answers between you and his friends who, in turn, might know.
Researchers from the University of Michigan built a system to automate this process and called it the Small-World Instant Messaging system (SWIM).
The prototype combines IM with a pair of advanced functions to support the social network-based search process. It contains a more precise and sophisticated user profile than most IM and a referral agent that automatically handles the information-querying process.
Now how would you search for information?
“a user sends a question to his own referral agent, which broadcasts the query to all of the user’s buddies’ agents. A referral agent in the buddy’s messenger searches its information identity profile to see if that person is likely to be able to answer the question; if not it can forward the query to its buddies.
When a likely match is found, that person sees the question and the path the query traveled, and can start chatting with the questioner immediately or make plans to discuss it later.”
From Technology Review.