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."
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...
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."