Google and Search without Search

December 12, 2010

I read “Marissa Mayer’s Next Big Thing: Contextual Discovery—Google Results without Search”. The key point in the article, in my opinion, was this passage:

The idea is to push information to people.

Years ago I wrote an article about push technology. I explained the benefits of search and described the efforts of PointCast and Backweb. My recollection is that I wrote the article in 1997 or 1998. The ERIC citation is here. I won an award for that article, but no one cared. No problem for me because I am not an academic and certainly at age 66, I am not interested in applying for a job in the Ivory Tower. I prefer the goose pond in Harrod’s Creek, thank you.

The phrase “contextual discovery” is short hand for the content system knowing who is logged in, what actions the user has taken in the past, and what the user is doing now. The “now” part comes from geographically aware software and some Julia Child-type numerical recipes. These “inputs” formulate a search query or point to content that others in a closely knit statistical neighborhood have recently accessed. Add salt and queue up search results. The user glances at his mobile device screen and, presto, relevant content appears.

Search without search.

Several observations:

  1. Pushing content is not going to be the next big thing in my opinion. The next big thing is having your Facebook environment provide you with the context for the information you want. No matter what fancy math is applied to search without search, I think the social experience in information retrieval is becoming more, not less, important. Of course, Google lacks a viable social search service, so it is understandable that the company wants 1995 technology to be the next big thing. Er, it still is 1995 technology. Even the word “push” dates from that era. It is almost 2011 and 15-year-old methods won’t hit home runs. Doubles, maybe?
  2. Google has tried several times to find a winner. In 2010, I suffered through Buzz, Wave, and the baffling Google TV service. I just don’t see Google having the same magic touch that it had prior to 2006, a point in time when Google began to shift from “text search” Google to “wild and crazy” Google. Push or contextual search is a great feature, but it is not going to set the 20-somethings’ hearts a-flutter.
  3. Google is fresh from some painful rejections. Math Club members are still struggling to gain social acceptance. The big turn down may be the brush off. I can tell you this: If I were Groupon, I would have grabbed that $6 billion and figured out something else to do that interested me. The rejection is all the more stunning because Google apparently was serious and so was Groupon. Maybe the deal will come back to life with another few billion added to the original offer. But the damage is done. Not only don’t major TV content people want to fall in love with Google, now a person-intensive, coupon sales company is not interested.

So what’s the next big thing? In my opinion, it is rejection. Google has to get its mojo back. Push may help, but more is needed than buying a digital rights outfit and quietly spending dough for content. Lots more.

Stephen E Arnold, December 11, 2010



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