The Death of Search

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Published January 27, 2015   |   

Some 16 odd years ago, Google made search engines famous and ubiquitous.

It’s sell-by date has come.

Think about it. Search was the greatest thing in the world because it achieved Google’s wonderful vison of ‘organising the world’s information’.

But now… what is the point of a million results, give or take a billion. Who can process such massive information? And why would you need a million, when none of them seem right for you?

What the world needs is a fewer set of personally relevant choices, that’s right ‘for me’. Like a few restaurants that seem like I would eat there, not listings of 100s. A movie that’s right for my mood today. A hotel list based on knowing that for this trip, I am not going for business but there on a weekend getaway with the partner. A laptop bag that reflects my slightly quirky personality … and knows my overall environment-conscious mindset, etc.

The challenge is, “choice” is way more complex cognitively than search.

Choice is a function sometimes of my taste (generally prefer thoughtful reflective movies), many times of the people or experts who influence me (I simply love FT correspondent’s Nigel Andrews’ acidic take on movies) , sometimes of my past behaviour (just saw 3 action movies and not in the mood for one more) and many times of context (it’s raining, let’s go someplace close by). And each choice reflects a different mix of these elements.

And choice is about reducing the trillion options made possible by the internet to 4–6 relevant ones, the limit shown as cognitively feasible for a human mind.

Search is about organising the ingredients, choice is about having a recipe. Search is functional, choice is magical.

In the next few years,choice engines will kill search. Yes, sure, search will still be there for some kinds of things (remember we still have land lines). But more and more, we will seek out a more cognitively complex engine that can simplify our choices.

Yes, privacy advocates will be up in arms, but consumers will have the choice, to turn on their own personal choice engine. And simplify their lives. Or not.

And who will be the biggest victims of this. Google for one. But Google itself is already killing it with its serendipity engine. Facebook tries to know everything about your interests, and will expand from content to restaurants, and challenge the likes of TripAdvisor and Yelp. Amazon is another player with its acquisitons of review sites like IMDB. IBM with Watson and Oracle with Datalogix and BlueKai acquisitions are trying to enable enterprises to offer better choices to consumers.

Whatever happens, one’s thing for sure… the era of search is on its last legs.