The hottest topic in computing and Internet circles today is a six-letter word to describe an activity we have been doing all our lives and which until now had not been elevated to the level that it has been in recent times. S-e-a-r-c-h. We search all the time. It is as basic as breathing. Sometimes, we search our pockets and purses. At other times, we search our memories. A decade ago, we started searching the global web of documents and then gave up because of the irrelevance of the results. Google changed all that. And in the past year, Search has become the most important word in the online lexicon as Google, having surpassed Amazon and Yahoo, is only slightly behind eBay in the race to become the most valuable company in the Internet space.
Even as Search has become one of the more important activities that we do, let us step back for a few moments and consider the online model of what is happening. We enter a word or two in a keyword box either on a web page or on our desktop (part of a toolbar or the browser bar). In zero-point-something seconds, the search engine returns to us a set on our computer screen a dozen or so links of matching content with maybe half-a-dozen advertiser links. Think about this: a world wide web of billions of documents distilled down to less than twenty identical links for each of us irrespective of location and time. This is the world, simplistically speaking, on which multi-billion-dollar valuations have been built.
We all seem to be gleefully clicking away at this narrow set of results because the advertisers are bidding up what they are willing to pay for our attention. Even as the world becomes richer with personal publishing tools providing a much wider set of amateur publishers, the interface to the web when it comes to search has barely changed. If anything, Search has become the hottest space on the Internet everyone from Microsoft to Yahoo to Amazon along with tens (or perhaps) of entrepreneurial start-ups are all working to stake out the future. Search has become synonymous with the Internets future and perhaps, computing s future.
There is plenty of ideation going around. Will Google do a browser? Will our word processing application be delivered by Google with the right panel free to cost, and ads filling up the right panel contextually related to what we are writing? Will all the worlds information books, TV programmes, our own disks be searchable at the click of a button? Can all this world really be compressed down to a couple dozen links? Is our world really that simple? Are each of us so identical that we can all be delighted with the same set of results? Is Search a momentary interface in time or is it that all-encompassing window to the world?
I think of todays Search-mania as good because it has focused attention on the problem (and we dont seem to be thinking enough about it). The problem search is trying to address is that of too much data and that is growing faster than the search engines can index or derive insights into. This mania is also bad because it takes away attention from many other things that are happening in the related, sometimes overlapping worlds of content, mobility and computing. In this series, we will take a look beyond the search core.