As the world shifts to all things mobile, anew reality is emerging: mobile devices are killing search as we know it. This is one of the many insights from an excellent article on the future of search recently appearing in Ad Age, written by David Berkowitz, VP of emerging media at 360i. In the post, Berkowitz notes that mass consumer adoption of mobile, coupled with the rise of big data, are creating a world in which consumers will seldom, if ever, need to actively search for things. Thanks to advances in predictive analytics, consumers' needs will be anticipated and fulfilled before they are actually expressed (or even realized) in the form of a constant stream of predictive recommendations sent to their mobile devices.
Predictive recommendations represent the creepy side of the Internet, giving birth to a sort of chicken and egg/virtuous cycle emblematic of many a technological advancement. As Berkowitz writes, "people will train technology with their behavior, and the technology will train people as the relevance of its recommendations increases."
ENOUGH (CONTENT), ALREADY!
To confuse the picture further, big data combined with the trend of big brands as (content) producers will equal a big headache. Imagine Exxon mobile providing fresh and original content (as Google encourages brands to provide for better SEO) targeted to the multifarious segments of its target audience-i.e. we gas guzzling masses. Worse still, what about P&G, with its scores of products and brands? Give a company like P&G the capability of predictive recommendations and the utility of robo-content providers like Narrative Science, and you've got a veritable hydrant of content spewing all over the Internet in unprecedented proportion. It will be interesting to see whether (or how) Google and other search engines adjust their algorithms to keep up.
Makes you sort of long for the days of the simple, full-page ad in Life Magazine...
Enter Google, who like a bad penny always seems to turn up when there is an Internet trend that is both cutting edge and creepy.
As the old saying goes, the only constant is change. Google had a great ride with search; now it's time to adapt to the next big thing, which in this case is mobile. Traditional search engines are not conducive to mobile. Yes, voice search technologies such as Google Now and Apple SIRI may address this reality in the near term, but it is a mere bandage; the fundamental reality is that search as we have come to know it is an antiquated approach to discovery. Once the Pandora's Box of predictive recommendations has been fully opened, traditional search may slowly fade into practical irrelevancy.
Aided by the proliferation of specific-use apps (think Yelp, etc), a growing number of mobile users already go through their daily routine without the direct use of a search engine, even though the apps themselves may be using data from search engines to function. This makes me wonder whether the search engine as a technology will go the way of U.S. railroad trains: in general, they no longer house passengers but still haul tons of material (content) throughout their vast networks.
To better understand how predictive recommendations might alter the existing search paradigm, let's take a quick field trip.
GOOGLE'S FIELD TRIP APP
Officially rolled out in late September, Field Trip is an Android app that uses triangulation technology to determine a user's exact location, honing in on signals from nearby cellphone towers. Field Trip is a kind of virtual mobile tour guide, recommending to the user nearby points of interest such as shops, restaurants, cultural venues, and historical information about local landmarks.
Users can personalize Field Trip's mobile notification settings to meet their specific interests. For example, because Field Trip is integrated with other Google services like Google Now, Google Offers, and Zagat, users can decide which highly localized information, coupons, deals and reviews they want to receive; with Bluetooth, users can even talk to the app hands free while driving in the car.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that Google will likely integrate this technology into its augmented reality Google Glass project, turning us all into mobile, deal-hunting proto-cyborgs, as we stroll down the avenue with our computerized glasses feeding us the latest offers from nearby businesses.
Welcome to the world of augmented reality.
DIGRESS WITH INGRESS
But wait, there's more. Google has taken yet another step in melting away the distinction between the virtual world and physical reality with the release of its new free mobile app, Ingress. Dubbed an "alternate reality game," Ingress is the brainchild of Niantic Labs, a tech start-up that is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of Google (interestingly, Niantic also created the Field Trip app).
The world of Ingress revolves around the tech-based conspiracy of a shadowy group called the "Enlightened" who are trying to establish portals around the world that will let them control people's minds. They are opposed by the aptly named "Resistance," whose mission is to stop the Enlightened. Ingress invites users to pick a side and then get out into the real world to find clues that will help them in the game: think of World of Warcraft on your street corner.
Check out this link to the Ingress promo video.
So next time you spy a pimply-faced kid on a busy street corner absently staring at a local landmark with smartphone in hand, he may not be a tourist, but an Ingresser.
GOOGLE AS SELF-DISRUPTOR
Even though the world of predictive recommendations and augmented reality may seem far away, the fact that Google is embracing such technologies suggests otherwise. Considering Google is the leader in search who also runs the world's largest mobile operation system (Android), the gang at Mountain View is acutely aware of the limitations of traditional search on mobile devices. As Berkowitz aptly points out, in an age when disruption is the new norm, Google is wisely disrupting its own search technology.
None of this means you should ditch your search engine just yet. However, predictive recommendations and augmented reality are two technologies whose progression businesses and marketers should keep a close eye on.
By the way, if you do see that kid standing on the street corner, you may want to ask him if he is a member of the Resistance or the Enlightened. I'd like to ask the same question of Google's leadership as well.