People: At Heart Of Next Search Evolution

A few days ago in MediaPost's Online Spin, Max Kalehoff wrote

...all of our silo-plagued concepts of media categories -- like Internet, newspaper, television, stuffed into this latest ZenithOptimedia report -- will eventually connect and blur onto the digital grid. That will lead us to adopt models based less on media formats and audience proxies, and more on actual people, content, behaviors, receptivity, relationships and performance.

He was talking about advertising, of course, but the trend he describes is universal. From personalized search to the social graph, the relentless trend of search is toward understanding the people who are at its core.

While focusing on people might seem an obvious direction, this is a massive shift in tactics from the early days of search. Remember? It was a major feat for a search engine to even index a site, let alone worry about matching it to the hopes and dreams of the person running the query.



Successes were based on volume: the number of pages a site could index was an indication of its quality. Now we take it as a given that we'll receive several million responses for a moderately ordinary query.

Directories and portals provided migrants from the Land of the Yellow Pages with a familiar, organized interface. But once users realized that they could get where they wanted to go far faster with freeform searching, directories went the way of the dinosaur.

As the size of indexes increased, the volume of noise rose, and engines turned their attention to deciphering the value of the content itself. "We've got 500 pages that say the same thing," the reasoning went. "How do we know which one to list first?"

Google's inbound/outbound link quantification went a long way toward answering that question -- but in a vacuum. Third-party sites are used as proxies for third-party opinions. The user doesn't figure at all.

And now, finally, we're beginning to open our eyes and remember that there is a human being at the origin of that query. There is a human being consuming that ad. There is a human being building that relationship.

Google's working on the concept with personalized search. Facebook stumbled over it -- and kicked it in the gut by mistake. And, like sperm at an egg, a thousand alts are pecking away, trying to get in. They know there's another quantum leap to be had.

Last week on my own blog, I described my current state of information overload. This phenomenon is not new, nor is it exclusive to me. It is, however, the single most pressing reason why focusing on people will be the key to the next great evolution in search.

As I struggle to stay afloat in an infinitely growing sea of information, one thing has become clear: we don't need more content. We need our content, the content that will add the most value to our experience. On a good day, I've got roughly two hours to read the millions of blogs that are begging to deliver me content.

If you don't make it about me, I'm going to drown.

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