Beyond Google and 10 Blue Links
We’ve already seen that search has progressed substantially from the days of text-only. Search engines have started indexing images, video, and Flash. And search results are reflecting the evolution of the Web by displaying news, video, and images. What’s next?
Google everywhere they navigate online, including their in-site search. Even though Amazon is at its core a retail store, not a search engine, Amazon customers expect Amazon search results to be as relevant and useful to them as Google results are.
Our expectation of effective search everywhere will continue to influence new search engines that use input completely differently from Google’s text box and that search over entirely different things. These new search engines won’t replace Google. Rather, they’ll be additional ways we search as part of everyday activities that may not currently involve search. Google itself will likely begin providing some of these non-text search interfaces over time.
What new search interfaces can we expect to see? Some of them exist already. Shazam1 is an iPhone application that enables the iPhone owner to hold the phone up to a speaker so Shazam can ‘‘listen’’ to music and identify it. The Urbanspoon2 iPhone application has a slot machine interface. Simply shake the iPhone and the application detects your location and spins up restaurant locations (see Figure 10.1).
A 2009 episode of the television show ‘‘Better Off Ted,’’ about a research and development company set twenty-five years in the future featured a revolutionary new product. Ted, the R&D manager, explained, ‘‘We’ve been developing a new search engine, and unlike language-based search engines, this face-matching technology uses visual recognition.’’3 Rather than type text into a search box, this search engine would enable searchers to scan a person’s photo and would show all other photos containing that person.
Image search engine Face.com took issue with the twenty-five years in the future: ‘‘What appears to be science fiction to these guys is a mere reality for our Photo Finder users.’’4 Currently available for Facebook only, Photo Finder uses tagged photos of a person to find additional untagged photos.5 Similarly, image search engine Polar Rose uses facial recognition to find photos of people across the web.
With Google Goggles,6 launched in December 2009, you can take a photo with your mobile phone’s camera and Google will attempt to recognize the item in the photo and return relevant search results. For instance, you can take a picture of a landmark, work of art, or product.
Where’s the value to organizations? Beyond potential reputation management issues (in the ‘‘Better Off Ted’’ episode, an executive is found to have a secret life as a magician’s assistant through the powers of the image search engine), the most obvious application is e-commerce. I may want to find dresses of a particular color or shoes of a particular style.
With Google Images today, for instance, I can search for similar images. If I see a pair of shoes I like, I can click the ‘‘find similar images’’ link below it and see shoes of a similar style, then click from the image to the web site to buy them (see Figure 10.2).
The product search capabilities in Google Goggles have clear implications for companies. If I’m in a store and take a picture of something I’m thinking of buying, but see it listed for a lower price in Google Goggles, I can just order it online via my phone instead (see Figure 10.3).
Google’s YouTube video describing the service explains how it can be used for local search as well. You can point your phone at a local business and Google will display the name of that business and enable you to view information about it. Now, when you walk by a restaurant you’ve never tried, you can simply aim your phone at the restaurant for instant access to reviews.
In Figure 10.4, you can see that you can simply take a photo of a book cover to access information about it, compare prices, and preview it.
Many companies, including Google, offer mobile applications that enable you to search via voice rather than text, although strictly speaking,
this type of search is still text-based at its core. It’s simply the input mechanism that has changed.
As you saw above with Shazam, Urban Spoon, and Google Goggles, many of the new search interfaces hinge on mobile devices. The ubiquity of mobile devices means we can have search capabilities available wherever we are, for whatever needs we have.
Social Search and Real-Time Search
Social search7 and real-time search8 are some of the latest buzzwords to make their way into the search landscape. Both terms have at their core
the rise of social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter. Initially, the hype was around recommendations from friends. Why search Google and get information from potentially unreliable strangers when you can search your social graph and get advice and recommendations from your personal social circle? So far, that promise remains largely unfulfilled. Turns out, most of us are fairly happy with the reliability of the advice we get on Google, although we may check with our friends (either in person or online) as well.
Now, the search-related value of social networks is focused on real-time information. Search engines such as Google have historically mined the Web and made the content from the Web easy to find. Social networks are creating new content, most of it about things that are happening right now, and then making that searchable. We know that events such as the Super Bowl or an actor’s appearance as host on the show Saturday Night Live can trigger search spikes. Results on Google for those types of searches will generally provide a broad set of information, including a few listings that are fairly recent (such as news items and content from social networks). But, search on the social networks themselves and you can see in real-time exactly what other people are saying. Think you just felt an earthquake? Grab your cell phone and search Twitter. It’s likely you’ll find out just where the earthquake was strongest and an initial report of damage before it even hits the news.
The major search engines such as Google have started incorporating real-time search into their results,9 much as they did a couple of years ago for other types of information, such as images and video.
If Google determines that a particular search query would benefit from results from information being posted in real-time (likely based in part on a search volume spike for that query), then the results may include a ‘‘latest results’’ section that scrolls that information. The latest results section includes content from sources such as Twitter and other microblogging services, Google News, and blogs. For instance, a search for [Justin Bieber] returns not only news, music, images, video, and web pages, but also a section called ‘‘Latest results for Justin Bieber’’ that scrolls Twitter posts from only seconds before (see Figure 10.5).
If you want to search through only real-time results on Google, you can either use the advanced options (choose Show Options, then choose Updates) or you can use the real-time search available through Google Labs.10 However, as noted earlier, few searchers use advanced options, so most people using Google will only see the real-time results that appear in the ‘‘latest results’’ section of the regular search results (see Figure 10.6).
Microsoft’s Bing has taken a somewhat different approach. They have launched a service that enables searchers to see results only from Twitter (and as of this writing, are planning to add Facebook results
as well).11 For now, searchers have to search directly on this service to see real-time results. Bing includes both recent Twitter posts and top shared links on Twitter (see Figure 10.7).
Bing has incorporated other real-time search elements into its results, although it isn’t bringing in real-time search results in the same way Google is. For instance, a search for [Vanessa Fox Twitter] returns my Twitter profile and my most recent posts (see Figure 10.8).
What does the rise of social and real-time search mean for companies? Negative discussions about your brand may become more visible, but your involvement in proactively helping customers solve problems may become more visible as well. As discussed in Chapter 9, the most important step is to start paying attention to social media and how your organization might participate. You can learn about customer issues long before they escalate into PR disasters and can address them proactively. You can also get involved in the conversation. Be helpful. Offer useful information. Provide support. By getting involved now, you’ll be ready as this type of search evolves.
In October 2009, Google rolled out their first attempt at social search as a Google Labs experiment.12 It shows results from those in your ‘‘social circle,’’ initially based on those you subscribe to in Google Reader, your Google Talk and G-mail contacts, and from the social networks you include in your Google Profile (see Figure 10.9).
You can drill into just social search results and see all of your connections who have posted something relevant to your query. You can also see how each person is connected to you (in some cases, they are connected to you through another connection) (see Figure 10.10).
Facebook, of course, provides social search functionality. Want to know what your friends thought of the movie Sherlock Holmes? Just do a quick Facebook search (see Figure 10.11).
Ultimately, the major search engines are looking to provide the most useful, relevant results for searchers. Incorporating real-time and social information is just two of the many ways they are looking to improve how they do this.
In late 2007, a number of search experts and search engine representatives got together to talk about the future of search.13 Google’s Marissa Mayer stressed that Google is balancing the changing needs of searchers and the proliferation of new kinds of content with usability and simplicity. ‘‘The paradox of choice is real,’’ she said.14 She explained that Google continuously launches experiments to only a small percentage of searchers to help guide them toward a better interface rather than simply inundate searchers with choices.
Nearly everyone agreed that a core part of the near future of search was personalization. Results will become more local for searchers and more tailored to them. Mayer wondered aloud about the value of social search. When you ask friends what good movies they’ve seen lately, you’re explicitly doing a search. How can search engines use that type of behavior to aid better search results? Can you take the social graph and combine it with search? Usability guru Jakob Nielsen chimed in that he felt that social networks were just too small to have positive influence on quality search results. However, as you can see, search engines are experimenting with it, and that’s likely to continue.
How should companies prepare for the future? The most important step is to realize search isn’t going away. Potential customers will continue to research product and company information online, will expect to find customer support there, and will increase online purchasing. Understanding the new customer behavior and buying patterns is vital to the success of any business—from startup to global enterprise, whether an e-commerce site or a business-to-business manufacturer. Media companies, local businesses, and traditional retail brands all can benefit from using search data for customer insights, product development, and business strategy. Organizations should incorporate organic search acquisition strategy into marketing initiatives and Web infrastructure.
Companies that evolve their internal processes and technical frameworks to incorporate organic search and all that it has to offer will have a substantial edge over the competition and will be in an ideal position to take advantage of any new search evolution.
Remember, the customers remain the same—they are simply adapting new behaviors to take advantage of the world of search. You’re equipped with the knowledge from this book to adapt with them.