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We’re all using Google less for search… and it’s petrified of that

Google search

Billionaire Mark Cuban — who famously sold Broadcast.com to Yahoo at the very peak of the original dotcom bubble — asks in a blog post: “Is search changing?

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Think about it. When last did you search on Google? And when last did you do another search elsewhere – probably without even realising you were searching for something? How do those two stack up?

We search for products on Amazon. Or Takealot. Or Kalahari. When we’re trying to find out what other movie that actor’s been in — or what the movie is in the first place — we tap the IMDB app on our phones. We’re searching for apps inside iTunes or Google Play (not a web search).

We search for and book our flights on an aggregator, or on the airline’s site directly. We book holidays on booking.com. Forget the date of a friend’s birthday? We don’t use Google for that.

Then the big one, Twitter (a real-time biz at its core)… A stream of everything and anything happening in the world, with more than half a billions tweets a day.

As Cuban notes:

Just a few short pre Twitter, pre app years ago we could depend on the fact that if the information was important to even a small segment of the population someone would put it on a website and it would be indexed by Google and made available quickly if not in near real-time. That is no longer the case.

Google hates silos. It hates apps. It hates Facebook because it can’t see (most of) what’s going on in Zuckerberg’s walled garden. And it’s not just Facebook. Cuban lists them: Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest… Google can’t see our likes, our interests. That scares them. Wonder why Google+ is being reversed into every possible Google product?

Make no mistake — even without this data, Google knows an incredible amount about us. It knows I’m male, between the ages of 25-34. Based on my recent searches and usage of Google products, it knows I’m interested in: Apartments & Residential Rentals, Arts & Entertainment, Business News, Celebrities & Entertainment News, Computer Components, Computers & Electronics, Currencies & Foreign Exchange, Economics, Email & Messaging, Finance, Financial Markets, Hockey, Investing, Johannesburg, Metals & Mining, Movies, Multilateral Organisations, Music & Audio, News, Online Communities, Pets & Animals, Politics, Real Estate Listings, Search Engine Optimisation & Marketing, Search Engines, Soccer, Social Networks, Social Sciences, Sports, Travel, Web Services.

Given my day job, I’d say that’s practically spot-on… (except for “hockey’?!).

Search (at least the search we’re accustomed to now) is all about intent. Google tries to understand our intent when we type something into its box (or browser address bar). It has become almost perfect at that — so much so that increasingly there’s little need to move beyond the results page. Soccer scores? Right there at the top of the results page.

The next step is to move beyond intent, beyond request/answer, and so Google’s focusing on guessing (with a high level of accuracy) what we’d want to know.

Google Now is the first manifestation of this: An attempt to make Google more relevant (one could argue almost completely relevant), it tries to pre-empt intent.

Cuban makes the point that Google is not “going anywhere soon. It is and will be dominant for at least the next few years. What I am saying is that I place a significant value on recency for many of my business and personal related searches. Google does a very poor job of indexing and presenting real-time, near-time or even recent information. Which in turn begs the question of whether this lack of recency will impact our ability to trust Google or other search engine results? Or will we just learn where to use Google and where not to use it?”

Google’s stated mission is to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”. Google Now is a big step forward. But without access to Twitter’s firehose and various walled gardens (apps, Facebook), Google cannot ‘know’ everything, especially not in real-time. And that’s a problem that puts the future of its core business (as we know it today) at risk in the long-term.

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