Search Life Meets Real Life — Tell Me Your Thoughts!

I was thrilled when I got invited to speak at Chris Pirillo’s Gnomedex event happening in Seattle this August 21-23. Gnomedex is legendary to me, and to present at it — well, wow! Plus some nervousness, which I hope this post will help with. I’m looking for some thoughts on my topic of "Search Life Meets Real Life." Want to help? Then read on — and comment!

While most of my writing is about search marketing, I’ve been most fascinated with how search collides with real life or society. One survey from a few years ago always has stuck with me, how people turned to search for advice over things they’d used for years — decades – centuries — like friends, family and libraries. Search engines are our confessionals, our confidants, our trusted friends that help us.

But sometimes our friends can be scary — like when it’s YOUR house that’s showing up in Google StreetView, or that feed you thought was private ends up appearing in a listing, or those photos — well, what happens on Flickr doesn’t necessarily stay on Flickr.

It can also seem absurd when people want things removed. Really, you want Google to start blocking houses that anyone walking down a street can see and take photos of? If so, will StreetView eventually look like one of those redacted CIA reports? But then again so what if something’s public? That doesn’t mean people want material to be so easily out there — or that they shouldn’t have some voluntary controls to remove it.

I don’t have the answers here. That’s part of what my talk is about, to explore issues like these — plus fun and weird stuff, such as:

There’s plenty more like this in our Search Stats category and especially our Search & Society category.

Another thing that struck me was a post I did about maps of the Southern California fires last October. It was a quick thing I did more out of personal interest than expecting many others to be curious. But nearly 50,000 people came in to that post over the course of two days. Maps are another form of searching, and the ability for anyone to contribute and build up real-time resources is remarkable. One person I know even told me how she depended on my post to find the maps, as she had a tough time seeking them out in other ways. A few years ago, you got your map each morning in the newspaper or waited for whenever TV decided to flash one up for a few seconds. Now you can study them, shape them, or get frustrated if they’re not out there.

Things are changing even more as search continues to jump off the web browser and into devices such as TV and our phones. While I’m no fan of many visual and weird search metaphors, UrbanSpoon for the iPhone blew me away with its intuitive "shake and discover" interface:

That made sense — that suited both the content and device, and we’re going to see more unique interfaces like this to come. But as I wrote to Chris as part of my talk:

What happens as search continues to jump off our web browser and into our televisions, iPhones and GPS units. These bring us a world of new search opportunities, such as location-specific restaurant search — but they also open new concerns about the search records and profiles left behind. After exploring some of the issues, plenty of time for audience discussion.”

Possibilities and issues. And as I also told Chris when I first suggested this as a talk:

I guess the big trend I’d say is that search has revolutionized our lives, made us expect that anything should be searchable from anywhere and that I think we’ll get more disappointed if it’s not. And that access to all this information is reshaping our lives in ways we’d have never imagined, from the private trails we leave that aren’t so private to political disputes. And that in the turmoil of all these changes, I’d guess I’d conclude I have a sadness that practically no one really focuses on the society issues of this stuff. Look at how much is written about Microsoft and Yahoo – yet how we interact with search, what policies should emerge, where it is taking us – little coverage of that tends to be done, little research. I think there are all of two universities with single professors that look at it.

On the research front, I’m hoping to perhaps do a college class of my own on the topic next year (Marti Hearst, who is one of the few I know of looking at search and society up at Berkeley, is an inspiration in this). But for now, I’m starting with this talk and especially looking forward to what comes from the discussion with the Gnomedex audience. But I’m curious what folks here on Search Engine Land and from anywhere on the web think. So please give me your comments via our Sphinn forum below.

On a side note, if I’m not responding, that’s simply because I’m going on vacation for the next week and will be completely offline. But I’ll be eagerly reading what people say. I’d hoped to do this post before I left so I could respond to comments, but I ran out of time!

Related Topics: Channel: Consumer | Search & Society: General


About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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