"Look at the sky," he said, and it was such a quick subject-change that I looked at the sky. There was some broken cirrus, way up high, the first bit of moonlight silvering the edges. "Pretty sky," I said. "It is a perfect sky?" "Well, it's always a perfect sky, Don." "Are you telling me that even though it's changing every second, the sky is always a perfect sky?" -- "Illusions," byRichard Bach
Have you ever looked at someone like Rupert Murdoch or Warren Buffett and thought, "Why does he bother? Doesn't he have enough?" Have you ever wondered how many billion dollars of profit it would take to satisfy a company like Google?
I was reminded of the idea that we're either growing or dying this week, when I saw the preview of Google's home page redesign. Actually, it wasn't the preview so much that hit home for me, but its descriptors: "cleaner," "sleeker," "fresher,""bolder."
If you're talking about Google, those adjectives seem kinda redundant. After all, who needs "cleaner" from the cleanest Web site in existence? As it turns out, though, Google can get cleaner. For starters, it can do away with those ridiculously distracting drop shadows on the logo. Then it can scratch the "Advanced Search" and "Language Tools" links on the side of the search bar. And, finally, it can make those ugly "Google Search" and "I'm Feeling Lucky" buttons the same shade of blue as the Google "G," saving us the effort of having to visually process an extra shade of gray.
I'm being a little sarcastic. The truth is, I like the redesign. It is cleaner. And it just proves that the work is never done -- not the design, not the self-invention, not the search. Because, really, compared with what we used to have, search is pretty near-perfect; but compared with what it can become, search is in its infancy.
And it will always be in its infancy. In Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, each need becomes irrelevant as soon as it's fulfilled. So, too, with search. As soon as we can parse natural language sentences, we'll find something else to strive for. As soon as the engines can divine our intent from a single-word query, we'll be looking for a new problem to solve. Bing might call itself a decision engine, implying that it's better to decide than to search, but it's in our nature to search, and we struggle with decisions.
Remember that the next time you're tempted to think the battle for domination of search is over. It's only over for search as we know it. The landscape hasn't been decided; everything hasn't been invented.
It's sometimes hard to believe this is true, especially when contenders seem to fail so spectacularly. The much-touted Wolfram Alpha went from 1.5 million unique visitors in May to 260,000 last month. Bing went from 0 to 60 -- and has stayed at 60. You're either growing or you're dying.
So perhaps Google is still growing. Perhaps the season for this iteration of search is still waxing, and perhaps the ground is not yet fertile for the next generation of engines. But things can only grow for so long, which is why I hope Charles Knight and his stable of alternative search engines never give up.
There will always be a new problem to solve. Keep searching. And let me know your thoughts, here and @kcolbin!