Shelve your crystal ball. You're now going to find out the eight most significant developments for the search space that will arise in 2006. I can say this with utmost confidence now; the humility of hindsight will come in December.
1) Mobile search remains confined to text messaging. The easiest way to access Google on your cell phone is by text messaging GOOGL (46645). On a recent date at an Indian restaurant, I demonstrated my geek chic by sending Google the text message "Indian 10024" (noting the zip code). I then received messages listing two restaurants, one of which was the place we were eating (amazingly, I had a subsequent date with her). Meanwhile, if I had tried to show her Google on my wireless browser, the check would have been paid well before I could fire off a search query. Factoring in network speeds, device screen sizes, and usability, text messaging will remain the killer mobile app for search next year, and it really isn't search at all. That being said, the recent announcement that iCrossing is the first search engine marketing agency to join the Mobile Marketing Association will spawn a slew of related stories. That's smart prep work for a time to come, but 2006 isn't the year. As an aside, with iCrossing's Web site now referring to the company as a "digital marketing agency," its mobile ambitions may not be search-related at all.
2) Yahoo! is the partner everyone wants to dance with. Google's the player to beat in the search space, which gives Yahoo! clout as the No. 2 (even as its properties pull in more traffic). Now, with Google's stake in AOL, Time Warner's competitors, ranging from print publishers to TV networks, will be even more intrigued to talk to Yahoo! CEO Terry Semel, who spent over two decades at Warner Bros.
3) Google Wallet goes Base jumping. Google will integrate its credit card-based transaction system (now used for AdWords and most recently Google Video) with Google Base, its new classifieds offering. This will complete Google's evolution as a competitor to eBay (along with Monster, Amazon, and too many others to name). By accepting consumer payments as part of Google Accounts, Google will welcome its first significant revenue stream outside of sponsored links.
4) Measurements debut for engagement; search is neglected. I had a discussion with my colleague Chris Johnston about engagement, and the topic of classifieds came up. CJ noted how classifieds can be considered a baseline for measuring engagement. That doesn't mean they'll be included in any studies. The same will be true for paid search ads, which are similar to classifieds, but with broader targeting and more interactivity.
5) Jeeves goes local. 2005: InterActiveCorp acquires Ask.com. 2006: It aims to really get its $2 billion worth. This prediction ran in an April, 2005 column, "The Many Faces of Local": "The word 'local' isn't in IAC's mission statement, nor is any synonym, but given IAC's expertise and its dreams for Ask Jeeves, that should change immediately. Jeeves, the beloved Ask.com butler, could become the face of local search if Diller invests in it with the same type of fervor in which he bid for Ask Jeeves in the first place."
6) iTunes overhauls its search functionality. Google wants to be a music search engine. For many digital music lovers, iTunes fills that role. As Google competes more with iTunes, Apple can't let another one-up it here.
7) MSN fells more trees. Think of the "tree falling in the woods" paradigm. If no one hears it, does it make a sound? MSN, for 2006, will be in the business of knocking over trees--it'll clear entire forests. The media will fawn over MSN's achievements. Marketers will open their eyes and their wallets, a bit. But consumers are far harder to impress. MSN is a strong player for long bets. It's akin to the prediction for mobile search, which has another interesting connection to MSN. Microsoft's power stems from its operating system. If Microsoft gains traction with powering mobile devices, MSN can in turn win mobile search. Again, none of that's happening in 2006, but print this out, and check back to this point as your paper starts to yellow.
8) Behavioral targeting and search join forces. I can see it coming one day this year: I get all excited about covering a new development in search, and find out that it's already been covered in Mediapost's Behavioral Insider. This happens to Gord Hotchkiss and me all the time with search, but overlap with BT is overdue. MSN AdCenter provided a road map last year for how to combine demographic targeting with search marketing. One or more search titans will set a similar bar for BT and search.
There we go: the definitive guide to what's coming.
At the Indian restaurant where I shared my text messaging prowess, I told my date that it related to some predictions I was writing. She asked, "How do you come up with those?"
She's a high school teacher in the Bronx. I should have told her, "It's just like how you go about coming up with your lesson plans. There are only three differences: your plans involve far more work, you're held accountable for them, and your writings can have a greater impact on who you teach."
Of course, the humility only comes to me now, after some reflecting. In the year ahead, may our foresight be as keen as our hindsight.