Terrence Dorsey

Writer. Editor. Nerd.

Search Can't Find Itself

posted by Terrence Dorsey on Thursday, 27 September 2012 @ 03:13

Once upon a time, the Internet was a much smaller place, but still full of incredible things that suddenly made our pre-Internet world seem small and plain by comparison. But you couldn't find it all very easily. It was like wandering around in the dark and occasionally stumbling upon something interesting.

And then there was search, and it was good.

Making search better and better taught me that the information was out there, and I could find it.

It also gradually led me to expect that, as search improved, it would begin to understand my question better and return more accurate, relevant results.

Eventually, however, search engine developers seem to have stopped trying to understand my search expression in more sophisticated, relevant ways. They know a lot about me: where I am, what I search for, what I look at, what I buy... and they make a business off that. But I'm not the customer anymore. And their attention turned toward making the service better for the actual customer...

Making search better and better for marketers is teaching me that the information may be out there, but whatever I enter as a search term, it fails to understand the nuance of my question no matter how I phrase it and returns only marginally related results, mostly for products or services I can buy.

Page after page of inaccurate results, and all for the wrong thing to buy.

It gradually leads me to expect that our industry will pursue progress and innovation just far enough to capture an audience. And from that point on it's all scaling up, monetizing and, mostly, showmanship. But not giving me a better product.

Eventually more folks realize that they're contributing to the business, but not getting anything back out of it. So the audience goes away and the search folk are left wondering where they went wrong. Should have written the service in a different language? Didn't scale right? Outmaneuvered by competitors?

No, just forgot why what they started was important in the first place. And that was not so good.

So, to live happily ever after, the good folks wandered off elsewhere to find and share things and maybe, over time, search becomes a bit less relevant. Because they forgot who their real customers were, and why they started doing what they were doing, and we never really made any progress at all.

I bet you can apply this same parable to a few other online services, too.