In this post, John Goalby (@jgoalby) shares his vision for how Google search will be replaced as the number one search engine.
Presentation gone bad
Stealing a glance at her watch. Five minutes late. Almost there… Spilling her coffee over the carpet, she crashes in to the boardroom.
Senior management is in a quandary. Cassandra has the solution. It has taken every last ounce of her being for the past 3 weeks. Working feverishly night and day to complete The Presentation. The Presentation that will define her career. Her big moment. It needs to be perfect. Something went wrong.
Cassandra’s presentation is incomplete. How hard could it have been? Too hard it seems. All she needed was three simple photos. Rage rising in her mind as she thinks back to the stupid stock photo site. Finding herself drowning in an ocean of irrelevant photos was not Cassandra’s goal.
The major search engines fared no better. Cassandra took her half finished presentation into senior management – sink or swim.
Cursing the internet, Cassandra takes her seat at the massive board room table wondering if there could be a better way.
A guessing game
Search engines know little of context. They only know what content authors tell them. Search engines pride themselves on returning as many hits as possible, as quickly as possible. Users of search engines have to search for terms they think the original content author would have used.
In the case of stock photography, metadata is used to categorize a picture. The photographer does their best at anticipating characteristics their clients will want. For example, a photo that depicts a business man and a business woman in a presentation. Does the photographer also note that there is a projector showing a graph? The relationship of the two people? That the man has gray hair? The woman is wearing blue? Where does it end?
Blog posts have even less structure. Blog posts often provide amazing information. Generally the information consists of free-form posts with little regard for who the end reader is and how they will find that information.
Search Engine Optimization goes some way to adding structure, but it is lacking. Search Engine Optimization is geared towards categorizing using competitive key phrases. These competitive key phrases typically are not where people have trouble finding results. Search Engine Optimization after all is about getting to the top of the search engines for competitive key phrases.
Search engines don’t understand, and frankly don’t care, exactly what their user’s need. A search engine’s primary goal is to return as many hits as possible in as short a time as possible.
By returning a large number of results, the user is reassured that what they want is in that result set somewhere, if only they could find it.
By returning results quickly, the user can spend all of their time sifting through them to find exactly what they want. But who really has time to sift through page after page of results anymore?
If relevance is critical to search engines, how come they return more than one page of results? If the search engine really understood what the user needed, 10 search results would be more than enough.
Cassandra shouldn’t need to be a Search Engine Ninja to get her job done.
Cassandra gets a second shot
Cassandra fires up her copy of TweetDeck. Her message: “@stockphotofindr I need images of the same 2 business people in 3 different work situations. By tomorrow morning! Please help!!”
Within minutes, Cassandra sees 7 responses to her request. There are examples of images and also requests for more information. Realizing that she was not specific enough, Cassandra refines her request: “@stockphotofindr One image needs to be a woman as a boss. Another with the man as a boss. Lastly the two working as a team.”
One photographer offers to take the pictures exactly as she needs them in time for her deadline. That photographer gets new clients based on the quality of his work and the quick turnaround.
This conversation is visible to everyone on Twitter. Each conversation builds on the others. This continued interaction is in stark contrast to the request-response formality of a search engine interaction.
Cassandra gets her three pictures. The Presentation goes well and she gets the promotion.
Twitter vs. Google
Google knows about that which has been written. People don’t always write blog posts on everything they know – but they do store that information in their heads, ready to help others that are going through the same pain.
Search engines have no personality and don’t engage in conversation. It could be considered an invasion of privacy if search engines used previous search information. There’s no such expectation from public conversations.
Search engines will always rule fact-based questions. There’s little reason to return more than one entry for these kinds of searches. After all there was only one First Place Winner of the Tour de France in 2008.
It may be said that you will get opinionated responses from Twitter. They are surely no more or less opinionated than blogs. In addition, the opinion can be addressed by other people listening in to the conversation.
The death of Google search?
Twitter (or its successor) will replace Google search for most people. These are people that don’t care about the search process. They care about the end result.
Google search will still provide a useful service to those with the time to discover solutions rather than pinpoint a specific need. These Search Engine Ninjas can provide their services to those using Twitter if they can find the answer quicker than the crowd.
Google will no doubt evolve their general search to incorporate Twitter-like functionality. Only time will tell how this will all unfold.
When will this happen?
It is happening right now. Twitter is growing. Many people are asking their questions of the crowd and getting good responses. As the membership grows, these responses will get better and better. New tools will evolve to help filter through the mass of data. Perhaps Google will be able to adapt their technologies to make filtering through this new ocean of data manageable.
Twitter is in effect a scalable, intelligent search engine with an amazing memory capacity. Twitter is capable of understanding natural language, dealing with ambiguity, and engaging in conversations – at least to the extent that people can
The crowd might not always have the answer for your problem, but they may point you in a new direction, or even create the answer for you. What people want will be visible for all to see.
As the web gets bigger it becomes harder to locate exactly what you are looking for. Search Engine Optimization may hinder finding information that does not revolve around a revenue stream.
As membership in Twitter grows, the more useful it becomes. Knowledge, experience, and skill will be added, one person at a time. People will benefit from connecting with each other to filter through the data and find the information they need. Relationships will emerge that will be more powerful than any allegiance to a search engine.
Make it so
Join Twitter if you haven’t already. If you are already using Twitter, start engaging with people. Answer their questions. See what people want. Pay attention. Twitter is not just a way to tell the world what you had for breakfast.
Next time you are having a hard time finding something on the web, notice the moment you start to get frustrated. When that frustration appears, take a deep breath, fire up your favorite twitter client, exhale, and ask the crowd.