Why all this nostalgia? For me it serves as a harbinger of doom for search as we know it. To fully understand the challenges we face as an industry, all jokes aside, we need to step back and look at the various changes as a collective movement.
First, the proliferation of widgets, gadgets, and apps (oh my) is increasingly killing the page view. The page view is a fundamental cornerstone of our industry and if content is dynamically fed to users' apps and devices of choice, then the engines will have a tough time indexing the content. Instead they would have to index the app or content provider, not necessarily the content.
This also goes hand in hand with the next hurdle: paid content. As fellow Insider Steve Baldwin wrote recently, in "Universally Accessible Web Content Cannot Survive," this would pose another major challenge for the engines. Again I think they would be left with indexing content providers and maybe a WSJ-style excerpt at best.
What about Wolfram and these types of efforts? Google sees the power, that's why it's lab-testing Google Squared. It's very cool, but with limited information available, searches here often turn up with incomplete data sets. So you have to question scalability here.
Social communities and sites are also changing search. Whether it's Facebook and Twitter, or Yahoo Answers and SMS options like KGB, they are changing how we access information. All of these reduce our reliance on engines because a variety of our search activity now occurs outside engines, with much of the content residing within walled gardens and not accessible to the engines.
Mobile search comes with its own set of challenges for tracking across device, engine, and carrier. The fragmentation here makes scaling problematic, but once that's solved, it has a huge upside -- especially as the millions of Americans already with mobile devices start to get acquainted with mobile search options. Apple helped RIM sell more BlackBerries and grow the overall smart phone market. But you still have to question how users will use/access information. How many of us actually search via the mobile web versus via an app? I daresay we live in an app world.
There are not many large independent search agencies left anymore because many advertisers and agencies are now focused on having an integrated suite of digital services. The core of sponsored search is commoditizing and quickly becoming just another media. Even the few remaining SEM shops now add new buzz terms (demand platforms, exchange buyers, auction media manages, etc.) to define who they are. But this isn't new, we went through this a decade ago with the "Interweb" where we saw boutiques rule the land but eventually the big agencies got into the game via development or acquisition. What this causes though is negative pricing and drives down margins. Ronald Coase wrote about the damages this can do to an industry back in the 1970s.
Google continues to be a one-trick pony that seemingly wants to focus on everything but its core. You have to wonder how long it can effectively juggle that. I can't just single Google out, though; everyone is doing the same thing. Diversification and innovation come at a price. The risk is that the innovation is not being managed adequately, so resources and money are not being used efficiently, data sets are not being properly vetted, and systems are not talking to systems, creating inaccuracies. Plus we always have the looming potential of regulation, which could kill retargeting and other data-reliant options.
So in summary, what we have going on is a collective set of changes that could form the perfect storm. SEO is getting harder to manage as the proliferation of apps continues to kill the page view and gets compounded by widespread adoption of paid content. Sponsored search continues to commoditize itself with an increased demand for digital integration that risks driving down value and profits. Engines and agencies alike are diversifying at a dizzying pace that risks destroying specialization. Last, no one really knows the full impact that social-, mobile-, and data-based search will fully have on the broader industry.
I don't see any of this playing out over-night, but there is a sea of possibilities for better or for worse. Whether the recent string of nostalgic articles is just a result of the summer heat or an omen, we are all in for some exciting times moving forward, even if we thought "it would last forever. Those were the best days of my life...."