In some ways the “future of search” is a tired topic that has already seen hundreds (maybe thousands) of speculative articles. But it’s also a topic of critical importance for search leader Google, whose entire franchise is built upon doing it better than anyone else.
Just as Microsoft didn’t anticipate the rise of search and search advertising and Google didn’t anticipate Facebook, it’s possible that something as yet unknown could displace traditional search’s (and Google’s) centrality in the internet experience. Citing her blog post on the future of search, the UK publication TechRadar uses an interview with Marissa Mayer as an occasion to discuss the issue and the future of Google more generally.
Beyond universal search, Mayer emphasizes personalization, social search and location awareness as important elements of search’s evolution. She also points to Google’s “cloud computing” efforts and data storage as significant for Google’s future. As an aside, Google Health — specifically electronic Health Profiles, which is one of those efforts — will potentially get a big boost from the new Obama Administration, which wants to aggressively digitize heath records.
In the near term, Mayer also suggests some new interface changes will be coming this year:
Mayer reveals that the team has been evolving the interface design and user experience of the rich media-heavy search results since the launch in May 2007 and that we’ll see the fruits of this experimentation in the coming months.
The article paraphrases Mayer, saying that “while search is 90 per cent solved, the last 10 per cent will take decades to complete.” I would argue by contrast that search is about 50 percent solved and that it won’t necessarily take decades to see significant changes and improvements. Mobile will be an increasing influence on search for one thing, and that will play out in the next five years.
Location awareness in particular is much closer than the article implies. I agree with Mayer that personalization and being able to tap into social networks are two important, undeveloped areas in search. However, personalization and Google’s potential approach to “social search” are in hypothetical conflict.
Regarding “social search,” Google is inclined to incorporate anonymous, aggregated user data to influence search results; but users are likely to be interested not in the anonymous “crowd,” but in what their networks and friends have to say about things. That partly accounts for the rise of social networks. And, in some ways, “search” and “social networks” are opposites.
Google’s acquisition of mobile services Zingku and the Twitter-like Jaiku provide potential tools for the “network search” scenario. Google also owns Orkut, which has gained usage over the past year. (Google also bought DodgeBall a few years ago but doesn’t seem to be doing anything with it.) The challenge here is integrating these tools and services potentially with one another and search in an elegant way. A reader of my personal blog Screenwerk also predicted that Google will buy Twitter in the coming year. (Facebook has tried already and will likely try again.)
There are a range of emerging mobile services (i.e., Mosio, kgb’s Texperts, ChaCha) that, to varying degrees, allow mobile users to tap human networks for real-time “answers” or “recommendations” on the go. These are substitutes for traditional search. In a very basic way, so is text messaging.
(Beyond mobile, TV screens represent another frontier for search, and another challenge that may “evolve” search in interesting directions. That’s fodder for another post.)
The rise of the mobile internet is forcing search to be more precise rather than simply serving up a list of potential links for subsequent investigation. And personalization may well help in that effort. But more generally, search needs to remove noise and redundancy, in my opinion. Why, when I look for a restaurant or a business location for example, am I subjected to 15 links from competing sources for essentially the same information? That’s another topic for yet another post.
“I’m a geek and Google is a great place for geeks,” she says. “I really love my job because I get to work on new problems and have new challenges each day. I’m currently working on our Geo products, Google Book Search and Google Health. They’re all things I’m excited to be part of.”
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