Commentary

Is Hunch The IPhone Of Search?

Two weeks ago, in the context of the Bing  launch, Gord Hotchkiss proclaimed, "Search needs an iPhone."  He argued that Bing isn't much different from Google (I agree, but don't think that's a bad thing) and, if search is broken (and/or the cause of the recession) as the Bing ads would have you believe, "it requires scrapping all preconceived notions and starting over. It requires an approach like the iPhone."

Gord has long held that the Google habit is virtually impossible to break (although my 12-step program may help) and fellow Search Insiders Steven Baldwin and Kaila Colbin weighed in last week with columns saying that "Google -- for better or worse -- has conditioned all of us" and  "The bulk of Google users feel no pain."

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As much as I like Bing and think that it has effectively closed the gap with Google from a user experience perspective, it's going to require drastic measures to catch Google's market share and revenue. That said, as Microsoft has often stated, we're still in the early innings of the search game and Bing may just be the rally-inducing hit Microsoft needs.

But we're still only talking about the search game here. As Gord said, "The iPhone isn't a mobile phone, it's a mobile Web and computing device. The phone is secondary."

Bing is still a search engine -- actually, more of a search portal. What search needs is an iPhone. What search needs is a decision engine. Not a search engine with a tagline that says decision engine, but a true decision engine.

Will the Real Decision Engine Please Stand Up?

As I posited in a column three months ago, the point of search is "the ability to solve a problem by using math or science to remove friction and create economically favorable outcomes for all." I followed that up with a post on my digital marketing blog back-tracking a bit and saying, "It's not about solving problems using math, science, or magic. It's not about economically favorable outcomes, yadda yadda. OK, it is about all those things. But all those things are encapsulated in this one simple concept -- decision making. That's what search is all about."

Mind you, this was March 27, well before Bing bowed its "decision engine" positioning. Now before you all join me in the back-patting, I can't take any credit for that epiphany.  The revelation came via Caterina Fake's blog post announcing her new venture, Hunch, which, incidentally, just launched to the public on Monday.

This is how Fake originally positioned Hunch -- "Hunch is a decision-making site, customized for you. Which means Hunch gets to know you, then asks you 10 questions about a topic (usually fewer!), and provides a result -- a Hunch, if you will. It gives you results it wouldn't give other people."

What!?! No blue links? No videos? No maps? No wonder wheel? Just decisions?!? How very Apple of you.

Keywords? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Keywords?

It seems as if Bing's entire ad campaign could've been written for Hunch. Tired of search overload? Thrown off by endless trails of non-sequitur linkages ("Moms who wear jeans to match their dress their teens jeans")? Need a tool to make better decisions about things like, "Should I say hello to her?" (Sheesh, talk about overpromising.)

And that whole bit from the first Bing spot about how keywords and queries are the real enemies of state? Well, Hunch certainly doesn't bother with those pesky keywords. Rather, the query bar encourages you to complete the sentence, "Today I'm making a decision about..."

In fact, it seems that the only way keywords are used on Hunch is to refine your "decision" to match one that's already been "played."

Playing a Hunch

I've been using Hunch off and on since I first got my "invite" on March 30 (gotta love those digital velvet ropes!) and, after tooling around with it for just a few days, I dubbed it a potential Google Killer. For those who read myfour-partseries on Google Killers last year, you know this is not a phrase I throw around lightly.

In response to my claim, Chris Dixon, a Hunch co-founder, commented, "We think of what we are doing as complementary to Google. If you want to find a fact like Abraham Lincoln's birthday, Google is the ultimate tool, in our view. The reason we focused on decision-making is we think it's an important activity and one for which Google is often just a starting point."

What a difference three months can make, aye? Today, Wolfram Alpha is the source for facts like Lincoln's Birthday and Microsoft seems confident (to the tune of $100 million) that decisions are where it's at. No wonder "fear grips Google."

Will Hunch Break the Google Habit?

No doubt, there are a number of interesting threads here. And your hunch that you haven't heard the last of my commentary on Hunch is right on the money. For now, though, I'll leave you with my reply to Dixon and pick it up here in my next column...

"Love that you guys are being humble and not going to market as the ‘Google-killer' --  lesson learned from Cuil, I take it?

As for Hunch complementing Google, I agree... in the short-term. There are times when you just want some results (or facts, as you put it) and other times you need to make a decision. That said, the need for facts or results are always tied to some sort of decision, right? Why would you need to know Lincoln's birthday? To make plans for your day off of work? To help you write your research paper? Etc.

Ultimately fact-gathering is part of a larger endeavor and if Hunch can string together all the facts that make up a decision, we can skip all those steps (and all those Google queries). I'm not saying this will happen anytime soon but I have to (and surely you do as well) believe that in 10-20 years, we won't be searching that way.

Right now ‘search' (aka Google) is like the old hunt and peck -- remember when you used to type with 2 fingers? As people (and your algo) matures, we'll evolve to a more sophisticated approach and laugh at the days we used the web to make decisions one fact at a time."

 

10 comments about "Is Hunch The IPhone Of Search?".
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  1. Dana Todd from SRVR LLC, June 17, 2009 at 11:39 a.m.

    After watching the Bing commercials, something was nagging in the back of my head, so I went to YouTube and searched "northern light commercials" and sure enough there is was: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N1ohsrZOnBY

    Look familiar?

    Ah, what's old is new again...

  2. Pam Piccola-fales from Digitas LLC, June 17, 2009 at 11:53 a.m.

    "Why would I need to know Lincoln's Birthday?"

    How about because I'm curious? Because I'd like to expand my knowledge and become a more educated person?

    Let's take off our search marketing hats, and remember that a lot of searches are conducted without any actionable or monetizable goal - to settle an argument among friends, to seek out something entertaining.

    Facts are great. Decisions are great. But don't forget Discovery!

  3. Dana Todd from SRVR LLC, June 17, 2009 at 11:53 a.m.

    Oh but it gets better...look what happened to divine, the company that bought Northern Light:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Divine_(corporation)

    tsk. I loved that damn search engine.

  4. Gordon Hotchkiss from Out of My Gord Consulting, June 17, 2009 at 12:06 p.m.

    Aaron..

    Just going on the record..again. I have nothing against Bing. It's a great step forward for Microsoft. I do have a huge problem with their advertising..which makes Bing sound like a revolution in Search..where I'm not even sure it qualifies as an evolution. This is Microsoft crying Wolf..and it will backfire on them.

  5. Drew Eastmead, June 17, 2009 at 1:05 p.m.

    Nice article. Very interesting and insightful.

  6. John Jainschigg from World2Worlds, Inc., June 17, 2009 at 4:04 p.m.

    What a symphony of turnstiles this thing is. Wow.

    I signed up for the service and spent a while letting it ask me probing psychographic questions like whether I thought Natalie Portman was hotter than Nicole Kidman (yes she is - smarter, too) and whether I esteem, love, worship, or just lewdly cohabitate with my iPhone (I don't have an iPhone).

    Here are _my_ Hunches(tm) ('hunch' is a registered trademark of hunch.com):

    1) Hunch may not be the iPhone of search, but they're almost certainly selling iPhones. In 20 minutes of psychographic clicking, iPhones came up about ten times -- way more than any other branded item. Has iPhone become SO iconic that 'iPhone attitudes' have become critical demo/psycho differentiators? C'mon.

    This opens up vast new realms of ethical creepiness, as services like Hunch work to shill their advertisers' products into my increasingly finely-personalized 'discovery process,' even as their unmonetized questions use brands (e.g., 'If you were a car, would you be a Lamborghini or a Prius?') to further refine my profile in product-centric terms that appeal to advertisers ("Over 30% of our users with incomes over $100K visualize themselves as a 2009 Mercedes S-Class coupe - wouldn't you like to know who they are?"). The mind boggles.

    2. Hunch is essentially "KittenWars for Grownups." Which sounds stupid, but is actually brilliant. Hunch couples 'Cosmo Personality Test' clickmonkey busywork with social curiosity (what did _other_ dupes choose as a favorite sunscreen brand?); creates numerous sideline opportunities to wander down random decision-trees, provide more personal information, and get shilled more products from advertisers; and wraps everything in the pretension of goal-seeking behavior ('I _am_ trying to make a decision, here, right? Not just answering questions about who's hot or not?') so the (less cynical members of the) audience are actually motivated to _help the system know them better_.

    They're definitely on to something here. If they want to send it into orbit, they'll make it social: imagine all those motivational forces and consumerist neuroses and status/competitive cues in a package that bffs could enjoy _together_, and you have the beginnings of an online shopping experience that could kill malls (oh wait, they're all dead already), drive audience groups towards online media consumption ('let's all buy Lady Gaga's new single together,' 'let's all watch True Blood together,' etc.), and create other kinds of ecommerce havoc.

    Not to mention that it would be hugely interesting to have some stats on how _groups_ of people shop together. I'm convinced that a goodly number of consumer decisions -- though paid for by individuals -- are actually made by a hive-mind.

    3. This is not search. And it's not really decision-making. It's mall-shopping -- an activity that's seldom as much about 'finding and buying just what you need' as it is about enmeshing you in a system that permits cross-sell, up-sell, side-sell, back-sell.

    In a sense, it's the antithesis of search -- just as e-commerce, per se, is the antithesis of search in that its goal is to sell us stuff, whereas search's ostensible goal is to help us find the right stuff.

  7. Donna DeClemente from DDC Marketing Group, June 17, 2009 at 6:02 p.m.

    Well I just tried Hunch out based on your recommendation and I did not have a good user experience at all. I need to make a decision on a new smart phone since I'm overdue for an upgrade. So I asked this question a few different ways. It kept telling me to get an iPhone even though I said I specifically need to stay with Verizon. I can't get an iPhone from Verizon even though I want to.
    Hopefully Sen. Kerry will help change this.
    I think Hunch may be a big affiliate marketer from Apple!

  8. Aaron Goldman from 4C, June 17, 2009 at 6:34 p.m.

    Thanks for the comments all!

    Dana - amen. Love how they played up the neat little folders they compartmentalized the web into. At least they stopped short of blaming all the woes of the world on bad search engines.

    Pam - good point. A decision engine will never replace a search engine. Just as not everyone needs/wants an iPhone. There are plenty of folks for whom a simple flip phone will do. I should've softened my language a bit to reflect that.

    Gord - sorry if I painted you into an anti-Bing corner. Not my intention. Know you recognize the long way MSFT has come in search. Totally agree with you on the overpromising ad campaign.

    Drew - thx sir.

    John - good analysis. Spot on with the potential for advertiser "paid inclusion" and social shopping. That said, not sure Hunch is quite at the opposite end of the search spectrum. Many searches are commerical and that's why Google makes billions in advertising. Hunch can blend search, discovery, and shopping into one seamless experience. Much the same way the iPhone blended voice, text, photos, music and web into one device.

    Donna - give it some time. Hunch will get better the more you (and others) use it. The algo is constantly learning and evolving. Try it again next month and let me know if it did any better.

  9. Allister Blanco, June 18, 2009 at 10:21 a.m.

    Finally had a moment to catch up on industry news. Tried out "Hunch" and was OK with it. I like the premise, but the only thing missing is the index of information. I'd like to see this layered on top of the Google index to gauge true performance.

    What is the deal with Apple? They're not the only makers of phones & media players but this engine makes that assumption. Looking for phones & MP3s as a test every question was pushing me towards Apple Products.

    I's like to be able to not answer questions each time and get results served up Google style based on my profile. If I was in a hurry "Hunch" wouldn't help my search.

  10. Simon Serrano from Match.com, June 18, 2009 at 11:40 a.m.

    what I don't like about hunch is all the work you have to go through to get to the end result. Maybe I am conditioned by Google, but I want results w/o having to put additional work into my search other than typing in a search query and hitting the search button.

    Having to go through upwards of 20 questions to get to the results seems like too much work for me and I think most people will probably agree.

    In the sample search I did, I searched for "what kind of new car i should buy"... the results were similar to Donna's where I specifically answered one of the questions as NOT wanting results from the big 3 US auto makers, yet 3 out of the 4 results were from them. That's really frustrating to go through that 10 question process and get answers like that. I got similar results with other searches and also noticed that basically any mobile related search is dominated by the iPhone.

    Additionally, if you register, you can change the results of a hunch. If those changes go live to every hunch user, I can see this as a hot bed for manipulation and spam.

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