TECH TALK: The Future of Search: Attention
The Reference Web is common for all of us and that is where we use todays search engines. It is only now that tools are available to search a part of my space Google Desktop and Furl are some examples. Search is one of the tools we now use to tackle the challenge of information overload. So, as we look at next-generation search, what we are really trying to think about is how we can manage the continuous datastreams that we are immersed in.
Look at a typical day in our lives. We have a steady flow of emails and IM messages. To reply to some of the emails, we may need to do a search across other emails or documents that we may have written earlier. We also browse the web going to some sites that are our favourites, and other sites on an as-needed basis, possibly spurred by a thought or a pointer from someone. Increasingly, some of us are setting up subscriptions to sites via RSS. This provides us the incremental content published by those websites. Taken together, there are many events that take place in a day which are either delivered to us over email, IM (and perhaps on the mobile) or are sought by us (news, cricket scores, stock quotes) on a need basis.
Over the past few years, the quantum of information that we are expected to process has gone up by a magnitude and the time available hasnt changed. We are expected to be much more efficient in our transactions and yet the tools available have remained nearly static. The email interface is much the same whether it is an email client like Outlook or Evolution, or web mail via Yahoo or Hotmail. To its credit, Googles Gmail has tried to innovate on the interface using ideas like labels. The web interface has remained the same a browser. Most of us now also carry a mobile. We also have access to computers at work and at home. Our data silos have increased. The flow of events has increased. The tools available have not adapted.
The next-generation search engines need to morph into information dashboards with centralised data stores accessible to us on any device at any time. Think of this as the next version of MyYahoo understands our context (location and time of day), is built on our preferences (subscriptions), leverages the wisdom of crowds (tags), and allows for serendipity (discovery). There is seamless mobility as I can access this event store and flow from not just any of the computers but also my mobile device.
The commodity that the information dashboards seek to optimise is one that has not increased and will not increase Attention. Alex Barnett quotes Michael Goldhaber: ..ours is not truly an information economy. By definition, economics is the study of how a society uses its scarce resources. And information is not scarce – especially on the Net, where it is not only abundant, but overflowing. We are drowning in information, yet constantly increasing our generation of it. So a key question arises: Is there something else that flows through cyberspace, something that is scarce and desirable? There is. No one would put anything on the Internet without the hope of obtaining some. It’s called attention. And the economy of attention – not information – is the natural economy of cyberspace.”
To build the new generation of search engines and information dashboards, we need to combine interface innovation with mobility integration and centre them around Attention.