May 26, 2011
The Future of Search
In the last decade we’ve seen a seismic shift in how search is used both by consumers and businesses. Led by Google, we’ve seen product after product roll out.
But rather than summarise the last decade of innovations, in this article I gaze into the crystal ball to see what search could be like in the next decade.
A challenger to Google?
Quite probably. I doubt that anyone will be able to catch Google’s monopoly-like market share, but there are a few contenders that will surely give them a shake.
The most obvious choice is the Bing/Yahoo combination (or Binghoo!). With pooled resources and a greater focus on delivering features comparable to AdWords, marketers and consumers alike may see the benefit of switching.
But realistically the development cycles at both Microsoft and Yahoo are too slow to keep up. Google’s massive innovation budgets and focus on NPD (new product development) keeps them ahead of the game.
The real challenger is actually Facebook. The way they have infiltrated the web with ‘Like’ functionality paves the way for a search engine to be based not on links (like Google’s PageRank), but on likes, creating a social-powered search engine.
Of course, this is conditional upon Facebook maintaining its own popularity for the next decade (which I have some doubts about – but that’s an article for another day).
The big caveat to Google maintaining its supremacy is the top three; Larry Page, Sergey Brin and Eric Schmidt. Whilever those three remain Google is unlikely to lose top spot. The danger for Google is a shift in approach that alienates users (like charging for search or other services that have traditionally always been free) and that won’t happen while those guys are still there.
Television is the next big medium for search. Google have already started to dabble in it with Google TV and broadcast rights on YouTube. Yahoo and Microsoft have been teaming up with networks for years (think Yahoo!7 and Ninemsn in Australia).
However, the big stumbling block for Google TV at the moment is the opposition of the major networks and media buyers.
AdWords already lets you buy TV ads on major commercial networks in the US, and Google TV aims to allow free-to-air shows to stream via the net. The big problem the networks will have in trying to oppose Google TV long term is that the push for Google TV is likely to come from the advertisers themselves (and their million-dollar budgets).
By allowing anyone to buy TV ads through AdWords (eliminating traditional media buyers) and streaming shows to a wider audience, advertisers have the potential to reach more people for less money.
Furthermore, with real-time Analytics being fed back into the system about individuals viewing patterns, there’s nothing stopping advertisers micro-targeting certain demographics. From a viewer’s perspective, it means that you could be seeing different ads each ad break than the guy in the house next door!
There’s obviously many issues to overcome, and failing an agreement with the major networks, don’t be surprised if Google do an Oprah Winfrey and establish their own TV network. Remember, they’ve already got broadcast rights through YouTube.
The Search Algorithm
Most search algorithms have gone through many changes in the last decade, but there has always been one constant; the number and quality of links. I don’t foresee this changing within the next decade either.
Over time, we may start to see social connections play a bigger role, but these are still a form of link.
New Search Products?
Undoubtedly. What products, you ask? Well, that’s a tougher question.
As society becomes more and more mobile, expect a greater focus on location and geographic based search products. Also expect a greater focus on augmented reality products, particularly in the areas of retail, real estate and maps.
As a general rule, expect to see a Google powered search bar everywhere, from your TV to your fridge, the world is going to become very searchable place.
Update: Two days after posting this, Google announced the launch of Google Wallet, a mobile payments platform (partnering with MasterCard and Citibank) that they’re calling a merge between “mobile” and “local.” Looks like a good start to the decade.