The hunt for search engine innovation ends with Kevin Federline.
Over the last two weeks, we sifted through a hundred search engines to find glimmers of the future, and last week we came pretty close. As exciting as the semantic web may be, it’s got nothing on a new pursuit backed by the former backup dancer for Britney Spears.
I know Gord Hotchkiss disagrees with my thesis. In a column last week, he maligned Federline, a man who needs no more grief. After all, K-Fed has to work to pay alimony to TWO former child stars -- Britney, and Shar Jackson of “Moesha” fame. There’s nothing wrong with launching a search engine to fund his quest to create an entire race of Federlines. Mr. Hotchkiss, don’t dis a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes.
To be fair, Gord’s problem seemed to not be as much with the man but with his search engine, a site run by Prodege using Yahoo results that rewards you for searching with K-Fiddy. Yet maybe we can learn something from the man whose DNA is all over the next generation of tabloid icons. And now for a phrase I never thought I’d utter: here are a few things we can learn from K-Fed.
Search is ubiquitous. You could even say it jumped the shark. If Kevin Federline is paying attention to search, everyone is. This is bigger than President Bush saying he uses “the Google” and former President Carter cutting the ribbon on Google’s Atlanta office. It’s one thing for Google to serve as the in-flight search engine of Air Force One. With Federline putting his celebrity behind it, search is for the masses.
Search is evolving. Consider how the K-Fed engine fits into other major trends. First, there’s personalized search, where every user gets his own set of search results. Then there’s the Custom Search Engine (CSE), where every publisher can offer search results tailored to its users. Thanks to Kevin, we now have the Personal Branded Search Engine (PBSE). It’s not just about searching your site. It’s about having your own brand that offers a unique value proposition for the searcher. In this case, the value proposition is autographed Kevin Federline photos. (I’m not sure of the going rate; searches on eBay for “Kevin Federline photo” and “Kevin Federline autograph” turned up nothing. And this is a site that turns up results for searches like “horse intestine.”)
Search isn’t always down to business. For the most part, searches are all about accomplishing a mission, directing people to a goal. Yet we still haven’t completely evolved from our “Punch the Monkey” roots; that DNA’s a part of us. We waste a lot of time online. One of the most popular videos on YouTube this month, with over 2.7 million views, is someone flying through their Photoshop drawing of the “Lost” character John Locke. Assuming viewers played it to its completion, that video alone has consumed 30.6 years of viewers’ collective attention spans. In light of that measurement,, encouraging people to keep searching to win Kevin Federline photos sounds pretty harmless.
Let the market decide. There are lots of great ways to stimulate search demand, and thereby trigger an increase in ad inventory. You can improve the search algorithms, make the ads more relevant, focus on specific verticals, create a more user-friendly interface, or adjust any one of countless variables that’s part of the search experience. If in fact the market’s clamoring for Kevin Federline autographs, and the market loves the idea of a Personal Branded Search Engine, then there should be more of these.
Gord Hotchkiss was so unimpressed by the K-Fed engine that he said he’d “rather wear fiberglass underwear,” an expression I hadn’t heard before (maybe it’s Canadian). It’s a sad day when the two longest-tenured Search Insider columnists can’t see eye to eye on such pressing issues as whether K-Fed should have his own engine.
If Google or Yahoo launched a Kevin Federline engine, their stock would drop. Yet as a more entrepreneurial endeavor, the engine has its place in the search ecosystem, even if it doesn’t appeal to good taste or high-minded reasoning. As Federline croons in his smash hit “Playing with Fire,” “I’m the best, I rule, come test my tools.” Now that’s integration -- promoting his own search engine through his music. That K-Fed, he can teach us all a few things.