One Search, 17 Ways

After the Consumer Electronics Show this month, where I met with the executives from Ford and heard about  their ambitious voice search plans, I kept wondering how the ability to conduct voice searches from their cars will change how people search, communicate, access information, and drive. It then made me wonder about all of the venues and devices people can search from. At CES, Dick Tracy, James Bond, and Inspector Gadget would have had a field day testing out the latest gizmos (if they could avoid Gadget's nemesis Dr. Claw tricking them into joining a booby-trapped tweet-up).

These new devices aren't meant to be solely for Inspectors; they're supposed to be for all of us. Here's a vision for how searches will differ when conducted in different settings from different devices. In all of these situations, we'll take the example of a young, female, Dallas-based professional named Penny who's searching for the best cupcakes.




Home PC

Query: "best cupcakes dallas tx." Penny has a craving for something sweet after dinner, so she spends a few minutes trying to find recommendations. She uses Yahoo where, thanks to SearchMonkey, reviews from Yelp and Citysearch appear on the search engine results page.

Work PC

Query: "cupcakes plano tx." It's her receptionist's birthday and Penny wants to find something near the office.



Query: "does anyone have any favorite cupcake places in dallas? I hope sam's not following me or it'll ruin the surprise :)" She texts this to 40404 and uses to get responses emailed to her.

Twitter Search

Query: "cupcakes dallas." Thinking she might not have too many followers in or from Dallas, she can also check to see if anyone has mentioned this recently.

SMS: Search Engines

Query: "sprinkles dallas tx." Over lunch, Penny overheard her receptionist raving about the cupcake place Sprinkles, so Penny decided to go a bit out of her way. She forgot the exact address though, so she sent a text message to GOOGLE (466453) while she was at a light.

SMS: Q&A Services

Query: "anyone know where to get the best cupcakes in dallas" sent to Other Mosio users then respond with answers. She could do this through her iPhone as well.

WAP (Mobile Web)

Query: "sprinkles dallas tx" entered in Internet Explorer on her smartphone running Windows Mobile 6.

iPhone: Google

Query "sprinklers dallas to." She's still having a little trouble with the touch-screen keyboard and the auto-complete features. Trying again, she gets it.

iPhone: Google Voice

Query: "cupcakes" and then "dallas texas." Fortunately, with Sprinkles Cupcakes being the official name of the business, it's even easier to find the listing.

Voice Search

Query: "cupcakes" and then "dallas texas." She used 1-800-FREE-411, though she could have tried 800-GOOG-411 too.

Car: GPS

Query: "bakery". On her GPS device, Penny selects "search nearby" and then picks the closest category match. Right now it doesn't return the most relevant or most comprehensive results for this query, but it works better for others.


Car: Voice

Query: "I'm looking for cupcakes in Dallas, Texas." She tells this to her 2009 Ford Focus equipped with the latest Sync platform.


Query: "best cupcakes san francisco." During a month of business travel, Penny flies from New York to San Francisco and winds up on an American Airlines Boeing 767-200 plane equipped with Aircell-powered in-flight Wi-Fi. Determined to sample the best cupcakes at her destination, she boots up her laptop, goes to Google, and finds Kara's Cupcakes as the well-optimized top listing.


Query: "meilleurs gâteaux paris" spoken into her LG Touch Watch Phone, set to debut in Europe later this year (Penny's quite the polyglot). The phone's capabilities will include voice recognition and text messaging, so she'll get to choose her method of searching.


Query: "cupcakes 75023" entered on her Samsung with Intel software running Yahoo widgets. There was plenty of buzz about this at CES. Penny may find the initial technology frustrating compared to what she's used to on PCs and mobile devices until remote controls better mimic keyboard functionality.

Augmented Reality

Instead of entering a query, Penny may be able to put on a special set of glasses and scan her surroundings for store names and reviews. The headsets and eyewear from Vuzix now link up to other portable devices such as iPods and camcorders, but they keep including more functionality within the gadgets themselves.

Word of Mouth

Query: "Know any good cupcake places in Dallas?" The past, present, and future of searching are anchored in word of mouth. It's not always the most efficient; it might take Penny 20 minutes to think of people she knows living in the right area who enjoy cupcakes and would have opinions on which ones are the best. But when she calls her friend Quimby and he tells her she HAS to check out Sprinkles, there's no question where she'll wind up.

2 comments about "One Search, 17 Ways".
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  1. Susan Kuchinskas from freelance, January 20, 2009 at 11:04 a.m.

    Brilliant analysis, and very important information.

    But I have a huge caveat: These definitely are the most effective searches for each medium. But how many consumers will figure this out?

    Don't most people still use one- or two-word queries? Can't find the stats (I bet you know them, David), but I think typical search behavior is to use the one-word query, and then narrow it down.

    If so, how well will this work on these non-web media?

  2. May Li from Peony Consulting, January 21, 2009 at 1 a.m.

    I share Susan's comments - outstanding summary of the various platforms ....The challenge with any media is gaining awareness and usage.

    I'd be interested in seeing a similar list on what are the top 17 urls on the list as far as Local Search is concerned . Also, data relating to #unique visitors/ month and how users would rank those sites in terms of user experience.

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