Listen to the Grumbles

During a jaunt through San FRANCISCO, meeting up with some people I mostly only knew via e-mail, it was hard to be cynical. The weather was perfect, breaking 70 degrees without a hint of the infamous fog and recent torrential downpours. The locals constantly informed me something I'm well aware of: "You're here at the perfect time."

The same applies to all of us who are taking part in the search space. We're at this blissful juncture where the industry is established enough to be taken seriously but nascent enough that its limitless potential shows itself endlessly. They say it takes a village to raise a child, and this massive village rearing the search space is raising it well.

Yet the cynicism abounds. Every new innovation brings out detractors. During such times, I like to turn to Richard Farson's brilliant and concise tome, "Management of the Absurd: Paradoxes in Leadership." Below, Farson cites psychologist Abraham Maslow:



"[Maslow] advised managers to listen not for the presence or absence of complaints, but rather to what people were complaining about -- that is, the quality or level of the complaint. He called them 'grumbles.' In the least healthy organizations, Maslow said, you can expect to hear low-order grumbles... For example, 'It's too hot in here.' Or, 'I don't get paid enough.'...

"But in a very healthy organization, there would be 'metagrumbles' - complaints having to do with needs for self-actualization: 'I don't feel that my talents are being fully utilized.' ...Absurd as it seems, the way to judge your effectiveness it to assess the quality of the discontent you engender."

While Farson focuses on businesses, his analysis applies equally well to industries. Listening to the grumbles points to a very healthy search industry.

Add into evidence a blog posting by JupiterResearch analyst Gary Stein ("Google Local Now With More Usefulness," March 4, 2005). Stein writes of enhancements to Google Local:

"I hate to ask for the next version when someone shows me the current version, but I can't help it. I want to see the data normalized and the reviews aggregated... The other thing I'd like is to see the reviews aggregated into a single score. They are doing this currently with the movie results, and I assume that the next iteration of local will go this direction too."

[In my best Dr. Phil voice:] Gary, you have nothing to apologize for. The pain you feel is from the grumbles. High-order grumbles, or 'metagrumbles,' are bound to cause discomfort. They're the grumbles expressed by someone who's feeling a lot of love. You love the new iterations of local search. But you want to see it reach its highest potential and be even more useful for consumers. Don't fight the love. Don't fight the grumbles. The industry will grow stronger from this love, and many, many people join you in feeling it. [End Dr. Phil voice.]

The most jaded among readers might say, "Gary's getting paid for his high-order grumbles. What about everyday search users?"

Ross is an everyday search user, a guidance counselor up in New Hampshire who accesses the Internet when he needs to and keeps in touch via instant messenger (IM), but he's far from an early adopter. When I visited him several weeks back, a digital camera he received over the holidays was gathering dust on his dresser.

First, we went to the mall to pick up a 256-megabyte memory card. But a gigabyte card would have been useless to him had I not installed Picasa, the photo organization and sharing software now owned by Google. Right away, Ross took dozens of pictures and called everyone he knew with a digital camera to make sure they're using Hello, Picasa's hybrid photo-sharing and IM application.

Yet even as he was doing this, he kept offering suggestions to improve it, such as, "You should be able to chat with more than one person on Hello," or, "There's got to be a way to select the specific song that plays during the slideshow."

These are great grumbles. Remember not too long ago when a typical grumble would be, "This won't install," or, "I kept getting booted offline," or, "I'm out of memory." Similarly, grumbles with search engines have migrated from, "I can't find anything," or, "It's too slow," to, "I don't see my favorite dive bar on the map," or, "How come the search engine can't read my mind?"

Keep listening, and keep grumbling. All of these new grumbles are cause for celebration.

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