In my last two columns, I explored a world in which anything and anyone can be found anywhere at anytime. Inspired by Peter Morville's Book, "Ambient Findability," I pondered how we'd arrive at such a place
and whether or not it was truly utopia
As promised, today's column will feature some choice nuggets from Morville's masterpiece along with some context and application to the search landscape.
Let's start with
Morville's basic premise..."Information is in the air, literally. And it changes our minds, physically."
This insight really gets at the core of what the
Internet is all about and the effect it has had on society. A couple of centuries ago, who could've imagined information traveling across the world without being physically carried by a person -- or
? And who can imagine what the true impact will be of the 21st century discovery that the world is flat
after all? Forget changing our minds -- in true Darwinian fashion, when everything in the world is within fingertips' reach,
will humans evolve into creatures with no legs and 10 fingers on each hand? And will we speak only in short bursts of keywords? But back to the here and now... "We can manage our
information diet and thus the health and well-being of our rational and intuitive decisions."
Gone are the days when the media was controlled by a few dominant corporations and
held to standards set by the Federal Communications Commission. Now every Tom, Dick, and Harry has a blog and somewhere, someone is citing them as credible sources. And with search innovations like
Rollyo and Google CSE, every Peter, Paul, and Mary can create his or her own search engine and index only content from Tom, Dick, and Harry. We now have virtually unlimited access to information --
but before we can make decisions, we first need to decide what information we want to include in our decision-making criteria, aka index. It remains to be seen how well we'll be able to do this, but
one thing's for certain...
"To not use the data and expert opinions and collective intelligence at our fingertips reeks of personal malpractice."
Show" ran a feature on CyberChondriacs
yesterday and asked people to "stop googling your symptoms," advising instead that "a
little ignorance is bliss." I'm with Mr. Morville on this one. When it comes to something as important as your health, it seems irresponsible not to tap the plethora of online information and
communities out there revolving around your specific condition. Again, the challenge is who/what defines expertise. And it's clear this is something Millennials will struggle with...
"For insight into the dark side, ask librarians. They'll tell you about students who never visit the library, but instead surf the web for a few good hits, with little appreciation for the authority,
accuracy, currency, and quality of their sources."
And, no Mr. Cruise, this can't be cured with a little diet and exercise. After all... "The primacy of
accessibility is among the firmest ties that bind our rationality."
And regardless of who we trust along the way... "The journey transforms the destination and
it's easy to become lost in reflection."
The path to ambient findability is beset on all sides by memories of the past and hopes for the future. The same came be said for the search
process. When you sit down to find an old classmate, book a vacation, or buy a computer, you have a very clear goal in mind, and set out to achieve it based on what's worked -- or not worked -- in the
past. However, nine times out of 10, your search clickstream will change the final outcome. And given the overwhelming amount of information you encounter while searching, sometimes you can't even
remember what you set out to accomplish. As Morville puts it... "A standard keyword search opens the widest of windows on the narrowest of topics."
times have you initiated a search intending to complete one task and wind up trailing off through a series of relevant results into a different pursuit altogether? As for the implications to
marketers... "Findability will be a key source of competitive advantage. Finders, keepers; losers, weepers."
I think I'm going to start working this taunt into my
SEO pitches, especially for those clients in categories that aren't heavily investing in search. Of course, the response I'm likely to get will be along the lines of "I know you are, but what am I?"
At the end of the day, there are still many marketers out there that have yet to recognize the importance of making their brands findable and will wait until a key competitor makes the first move
before panicking, er... combating them.
For, alas... "You can take the person out of the Stone Age but you can't take the Stone Age out of the person."
For the record, Morville used this line to describe how the human brain reacts to the influx of stimuli in today's modern world, not to ridicule marketers that haven't embraced SEO. But he does make
some astute observations about companies that do pursue SEO solutions... "Everybody is responsible and so we run the risk that nobody is accountable."
aptly notes that, when it comes to SEO, multiple parties are involved in the project, from marketing to IT to outside agencies. He has seen firsthand that... "In most organizations
findability falls through the cracks between roles and responsibilities, and everyone loses."
Morville's proposed solution? "Findability hackers" -- aka SEO professionals -- whose
job is to cut through the corporate clutter and develop cross-disciplinary processes to achieve a balance of form, function, and findability. As elegant as this sounds, though, if we thought the
backlash was bad when SEOs were told they are not rocket scientists
, I'm not sure how they'll respond to being called a
bunch of hacks! So remember... "There's a fine line between the wisdom of crowds and the ignorance of mobs."
Amen, Brother Morville, Amen.