Could ‘people-powered’ Digle be the future of search?

It’s search, Jim, but not as we know it.

In a search industry where most of the major players are focused on machine learning, artificial intelligence and developing increasingly sophisticated algorithms, it’s unusual to come across a company which sets out to do the exact opposite.

Enter Digle, the ‘people-powered’ search platform. One part Yahoo Answers, one part classifieds, and two parts gamified search engine, Digle has set out to buck the system of search and SEO by putting the power into the hands of people, not machines, to find and deliver results.

In a way, it makes a lot of sense. Search engines have definitely been developing in a direction which means they are better able to interpret search queries in a human way: to parse complex, multi-part searches, answer full questions, even recognise and identify images. But you know who can already do that? Humans.

“You can’t compare a person’s semantic intelligence to a robot’s; we can listen to what someone says and understand what they mean, what’s most important to them, how all the different facets of what they are saying fit together, and so on,” says Nathan Fried, CEO of Digle.

We’re being encouraged to treat search engines (and their accompanying voice assistants) more and more like people – having conversations with them, asking them questions, and teaching them how to understand the kinds of queries we want them to respond to.

But although progress in this area has come along in leaps and bounds, we’ve still got a long way to go, and trying to track down a specific item or piece of information can be a protracted, multi-part process that often ends in frustration. Digle’s solution to this?

To let people do the hard work for you. But while this might sound like a good idea in principle, how does it work in practice?

People-powered search

Digle is currently in early-access mode, with no apparent restrictions on who can sign up, so I created an account and had a poke around.

Digle’s landing page is styled like a traditional search engine, with a search bar and an invitation to type in what you’re trying to find. However, regardless of what you enter, you’re taken to your dashboard with a form to fill in to create your actual search, and then to another page after that to add more details. Or if you don’t have a Digle account, you’re directed to a login page.

A screenshot from the Digle landing page with a faint map of the world represented in grey dots as the background. To the right of the map is a large magnifying glass icon in pale grey. On top of this background is a search bar with the question 'What are you trying to find?' Underneath is a link with a triangular Play button reading 'Watch Digle in action'.

I don’t think that styling its landing page as a regular search engine does Digle any favours, since it might set people up with expectations for a more traditional search experience, only to be frustrated when they’re directed to multiple forms instead of seeing any results.

What Digle does do very effectively is create a system which makes it rewarding for people to both post and fulfil searches, knowing that there has to be some incentive for people to take part in the search process. The platform has XP, which you can rack up by posting searches, contributing ‘finds’ for other people’s searches, submitting feedback to the platform and so on.

You also earn badges when you reach a specific milestone (like posting five searches), and can level up after gaining a specific amount of XP.

A Digle badge award notification congratulating the user on earning the Mini Digler badge. The text reads: Congratulations! You've earned the badge Mini Digler. Great stuff, you've levelled up. Keep playing to reach level 2 and beyond. Keep up the good work!

I mentioned that you need to fill out a form in order to submit a search; how it works is that you provide as many details as you can about what you’re looking for, what kinds of criteria will satisfy your request, as well as anything you definitely don’t want people to include, and attach any links or images for further context.

You also have to specify a time limit for ‘Finders’ to submit responses in, which can be anything up to six days; and you set a reward for the search in ‘credits’, which contribute to search ranking and can even be redeemed for cash. Then you sit back and watch the responses roll in.

The Request a New Search form on Digle, with spaces for search category, title, search expiry time, reward (in credits), and an optional Pro Features section which is not selected.

Creating a new search on Digle

Users on Digle post searches for a wide variety of things: to track down an item to buy, to gather information or advice (which is where the ‘Yahoo Answers’ part comes in), to find deals, to track down courses, jobs or job seekers (which is where the ‘classifieds’ part comes in). CEO Nathan Friel is clear that Digle isn’t just about sharing opinions, though.

“We make it very clear that Digle is about specific searches and relevant results, not opinions! We’re not fussed about what someone else thinks or supposes (like Quora, perhaps). It’s about smart people trawling through the tons of information online and offline to find results that solve the specific problems and needs of a search.

“There is an element of crowdsourcing, but Digle is more than that. We’re a search service, and we’ve developed our platform to be intelligent as possible from a tech point of view. So it’s a mix – we couldn’t do it without the people, but there’s a lot of muscle coming from the setup and service that we provide as a business.”

No to SEO

One of the key ethos behind Digle is the idea that it’s more equal than SEO. Friel believes that tactics like SEO and PPC favour businesses and organisations with the biggest budget, even when they might not be the most relevant to a user’s search.

“There’s a whole world out there on the Internet, yet so much of what we see is the content for which the SEO or PPC budget was higher. You get a kind of censorship that leads people easily to a small pool of results, omitting those that may contain, for example, higher discounts on products. It’s then harder, and takes longer, to reach alternatives even if those alternatives are indeed more relevant to the person’s search.

“SEO is a great way of dealing with the sheer quantity of results online, but the downside is the omission of potentially good results. If you sell the cheapest USBs on the market, but you only opened your eCommerce store last week, you’re going to have a hard time getting noticed. The only way is if you have the ad spend to queue jump… but how many small businesses can do that and compete with gargantuan brands who dominate their space?

“It’s certainly not always in the customer’s best interest.”

That doesn’t mean, though, that there isn’t a way to optimise your searches within Digle – or that Digle itself doesn’t use algorithms to sort through and present searches to the user.

When you create a search on Digle, you have to give your request an 80-character title, which is the only real detail that users get about your search up-front, so it’s helpful to make it descriptive and attention-grabbing. You can also add tags to improve search visibility.

A screenshot of the Digle 'smart search' page, with users' searches represented as cards containing the user's name, level and XP, followed by the search category and title, and a button labelled 'View'. The card also shows how much time is left on the search. Examples include a search for 'Hair care - reduce hair frizz' and 'Cheap wheelie suitcase'. To the right is a round purple button labelled 'Shuffle' with a round arrow on it, similar to the Refresh button on an internet browser.

Searches on Digle are presented in a ‘card’ style format, with 80-character titles

In your Digle profile, you can specify interests, which are used to match ‘Finders’ with the most relevant searches for their attention. At the beginning, a search is only visible to Finders who match with it, but becomes visible to a wider audience over time if no Finds are submitted.

This presumably means that tagging your search with more criteria will help it match with a larger pool of Finders – up to a point where the tags are still relevant, of course.

The future of search?

When I signed up to Digle for the first time, a confirmation message cheerfully informed me that I was ‘one step closer to the future of search’. While this is probably a little bit tongue-in-cheek, there’s some truth to it as well.

While I don’t think Digle in itself is the ‘future’ of search, if I had to guess at what the future of search might be, I’d say a system in which you can input any query and get an accurate result back. And that’s obviously what the creators of Digle have set out to do with their platform.

A confirmation message on a grey background which reads "You are one step closer to the future of search. Stand by, your email invite will arrive in your inbox shortly." The Digle logo is present in the top left hand corner.

Friel emphasises that he doesn’t envisage Digle as a replacement for traditional search engines like Google or Bing. In fact, he even expects that Finders will use web search engines to help others find what they’re looking for.

“We’re not an alternative to Google. Google is great at showing you every option, but we’re here for when you don’t want to check – or can’t check – all the options yourself (or can’t even get Google to show options that seem relevant).

“Ultimately, you’re going to choose Digle when you hit frustration point, or when you don’t want to waste time looking, or indeed when it makes more sense to let someone else with better search knowledge find you something that’s going to save you money in the long-run.”

I can see a lot of potential uses for Digle, but also a lot of situations in which I definitely wouldn’t use it. For example, with nutrition advice – which I helped one Digler search for (and learned a lot about iron deficiency in the process) – I personally would prefer to sort through the information myself, learn what’s true and what’s a myth, and make a decision about my diet based on what I’ve learned.

With Digle, you more or less have to take the information that Finders present to you at face value, otherwise you might as well have just done the work yourself.

But it could be great for giving someone a starting point, allowing Finders to contribute their individual experiences and expertise on a topic, or putting someone in touch with an opportunity they wouldn’t have come across otherwise.

A screenshot of a Digle search with the question "How does Digle find the answer to this question" as its title and no other information. There are no finds submitted for the search.

How indeed?

While there may be platforms out there which do something similar, like Yahoo Answers, Craigslist, or Gumtree, Digle still has something new to contribute, combining elements of search and socialisation with gamification and crowdsourcing – or more accurately ‘crowdwisdom’, the name given to using the collective knowledge of a group to find the best result.

It’s a fun platform to use and easy to get hooked on, as you check back to see what new searches have popped up, or get a rewarding sense of accomplishment as someone marks your Find ‘Good’ or a ‘Winner’. It has the potential to become a powerful tool if – and this is always the big if – it can catch on on a large enough scale.

And Digle’s creators have some ideas about what the platform could mature into over the longer term.

“Digle does and always will provide personally-crafted results for each search, but over time, we’re going to have accumulated so much specific data from across the web – double-filtered satisfying links or websites related to specific keywords and conditions. We believe that this will open up powerful indexing opportunities that will be used to serve users in different ways.

“Obviously our main focus right now is growing the community, but the fact remains that Digle’s search power has the potential to mature into something rather complex over time.”

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