First published May 10, 2007 in Mediapost’s Search Insider
Since most of the Search Insiders are in Bonita Springs this week, chances are that you’ll be hearing a lot of what’s happening down here in the Florida Everglades (other than the brush fires which appear to have us surrounded). Aaron Goldman shared his Buzz-o-meter with us on Tuesday, where he measures the words that seem to be dropped with the greatest frequency. It appears that my opening remarks set a tone that has been picked up in a number of sessions, and two words breaking into the top 10 are “connection” and “community.” Aaron added a third “c”: “content.”
To me, these words sum up a transition that’s happening in search. Expect the activity of searching on a search engine to gradually disappear, to be replaced with the functionality of search as an underpinning to the workings of many things on the Web. Search will become the engine that drives the semantic web, which Esther Dyson talked about in her keynote. She’s looking for search to move beyond “search and fetch” to her ideal, “deliver, act and transact.”
Search will be the connector between what we want and what best matches our want out there on the Web. And rather than a singular task (i.e. go look for this query) it will become a self-guided series of tasks, with intelligent agents in between to set search on its new direction. An entire trip, include flight reservations, hotel bookings, ground transportation, notifications of friends in the area and restaurant reservations, could be booked by intelligent Web agents, powered by search. And as came up in a panel discussion with the Search Insiders, when the presentation of commercial messaging appears in this context, it’s not advertising, it’s a helpful recommendation.
The piece that drives this is personalization, and that’s why Google’s moves are potentially so important. They take us much closer to the semantic web that Dyson envisions. This is the first “c”: connections.
The second “c” speaks to the very transformation of our society: community. The way we relate to each other is being totally rewired by the Internet. By sheer physical necessity, communities have previously been defined by geography. We shared a common space, which enable communication, which created community. But today, the Internet has made physical distance irrelevant. Our communities are now defined by commonly held ideas or interests. Communities form around ideas, and search connects us to those communities. Every time we do online research for a product or service, we step into a community. In the course of a day, we can belong to several different communities. They are constantly shifting, as people move in and out of them, depending on the longevity of the engagement with the idea that forms the community.
And a third “c,” content, is the trail that the other members of that community leave behind through their conversations. These are the telltale signs that someone has already gone this way, and left a permanent record of his or her engagement with the community. Every Wikipedia entry is part of a community, as are many MySpace pages, blog posts and other virtual outposts. Search is the thread that loops them together at the user’s initiative. In fact, the algorithm of the engine is the de facto definer of community with each given search. The engine goes out, defines the landscape of community, and connects you with the citizens of that community and the content trails they leave behind.
It’s a fascinating world, which is being born as we speak. It’s a sociological experiment of vast magnitude in the making, and I don’t think we know what the repercussions will be. Whatever they are, it’s too late to turn back now. Technology moves fast, but people move slowly, and not in one mass. Small degrees of technological change can create seismic shifts in the sociological landscape. And we’re subjecting ourselves to a degree of technological change unparalleled in history. Who knows what we’ve unleashed?