K-Fed Up with Celebrity Skinned Search

First published March 22, 2007 in Mediapost’s Search Insider

I’ve got a question for you: Would you want to do anything with Kevin Federline? Personally, the more Federline-free my world is, the better. But apparently other people don’t see it that way. You may have noticed earlier this week that K-Fed is actually launching his own search engine. Well, to be more accurate, he’s slapping his face on an existing back end, so to speak. I won’t go into the details of the K-Fed engine, except to say that it’s powered by Yahoo and it’s offered by Prodege.com.

Par-Tee with Britney’s Ex!

Apparently, making this your primary search engine could open the door to a chance to win tickets to Kevin’s private birthday party (I would rather wear fiberglass underwear), T-shirts and other paraphernalia all related to the somewhat questionable K-Fed brand. Apparently, an invite to K-Fed’s birthday party is “a once in a lifetime opportunity.” This has the ring of truth, as I might consider killing myself if I actually won.

This got me thinking. If we’re in the era of consumer-generated media, are we also in the area of consumer-generated celebrities? Does the increasing fragmentation of our society through an explosion of online channels means that even marginal celebs like Kevin Federline get their own small sliver of fame? If we have enough Kevin Federline fans somewhere and the Web has empowered them to have a voice unlike anything they may have been able to have before, is there a place for a Kevin Federline search engine? And, if so, does the future hold the promise of a profusion of celebrity skinned search sites?

Google Dresses Up Your Home Page

Ironically, Google also made an announcement this week releasing six themes for their personalized homepage. In this case, Google went out of its way to make sure that the themes are not commercial in any way. In Google’s words, these themes are all about “art and personality.” The new Google themes are clever, in that they are location-sensitive and have some cool little twists designed to “delight” users. For example, some of the scenes are outdoors, and the sun rises and sets in sync with where you happen to be located. With a Google theme installed, you may never have to look out your window again. But in a conversation with Google folks, they made a point of saying that they’re hesitant to open up an API to Google themes, for fear that it would cause a rush of commercialized skins, which could encroach on the user experience.

Blatant Commercialism is Skin Deep

Commercially oriented skins are nothing new, of course. Movies have released custom skins for MP3 players and other online apps that bury functionality under a sea of advertising spin. There are hundreds and thousands of desktop themes, wallpaper and screen savers with a commercial bent. But up to this point, search has been relatively “spin-free,” save of course for the advertising on the actual results page. But at least I don’t have to look at Kevin Federline when I’m searching for the symptoms of gout or trying to find an update patch for my latest Windows problems.

Just Give Me My Results, Dammit!

Based on a few new entries in the search space, it suddenly seems like we need personality mixed in with our search functionality. Search innovator K-Fed is not the only one pointing us in this direction. Microsoft has been playing around with Ms. Dewey (again an unfortunate choice of words), with the assumption that an undeniably attractive but distinctively bitchy female guide standing in front of a Blade Runner-esque streetscape will somehow make our search experience more complete. Perhaps Ms. Dewey could be K-Fed’s rebound after his split with Britney. Or perhaps both of them should have a cup of tea with Jeeves and see how being a search mascot worked out for him.

My feeling is that we want search to be a pristine experience. We’d like it to be minimalist, and we want to start from a neutral palette. We are so focused on intent and the task at hand when we interact with search that anything that gets in the way is simply a distraction. It adds nothing to the user experience. Search is very utilitarian task. We get in, find what we’re looking for and get out. However, with the lion’s share of the search market tied up in the hands of so few players, perhaps any tactic is worth a try to see if they can wrest even a small sliver of those searches away from the Googles and Yahoos of the world.

Where Are They Now?

By the way, the other celebrities that have their own search engines with Prodege.com? Meatloaf, Andrew Dice Clay, and Wynonna Judd. So the progressive degrees of “washed up” seems to be: having your own reality show, appearing on “Dancing with the Stars,” then having your own search engine. Now, I ask you, if Paris doesn’t have her face (or other assorted body parts) plastered on a search engine somewhere, how hot can this trend really be?

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