A holiday dinner last night with some of uLocate’s senior team and the leadership of a major telecom carrier raised an interesting discussion of where search is going.
My view: the next big battle in search is going to be about providing search results BEFORE you even ask a question. The next big frontiers for Search include knowing your location without you having to provide it, knowing your likely queries before you type anything into the searchbox, and knowing your behavioral profile (needs, wants, interests) without you having to do anything.
This is the battlefield for Search Engine Wars V — and it is going to be a major showdown, pitting such behemoths as Google and Microsoft against each other, and with smaller armies from the Facebooks, Twitters and uLocates of the world making alliances and contributing arms and assets to the fray.
A quick recap to point out how we got here. The search wars began in the mid-1990s, when the Infoseeks, Yahoos, Excites, Lycos’s and Alta Vistas brought text search to the mass consumer market via the public internet. Before then, text search and data retrieval had been a large, lucrative backwater — a paid product in the business-professional world (remember such brands as Dialog, Lexis-Nexis, Dow Jones News Retrieval — now known as Factiva?)
Those first search companies went public, made millions, were sometimes acquired (Disney-Infoseek, @Home-Excite) or sometimes went under. After that, search became a feature in what became known as the portal wars. I call this period Search Wars II. Many of the technical leaders thought text search was a finished product, and lost their focus on improvements while turning instead to such important initiatives as personalization, feed syndication and e-commerce tools.
This inattention left open search world to Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who did a brilliant job of improving search and threw down the gauntlet of Search Wars III: The Rise of Google. And, more recently with the launch of its vastly improved Bing service, Microsoft has at long last battled back — and, coupled with its Yahoo search deal — is fighting hard in Search Wars IV.
That’s why I believe it is time to think about what’s next. And to my mind, the next battle in search is going to be about saving users time and effort by providing knowledge about likely searches before a customer has to type anything into the search box.
We can already see some of this, with services such as uLocate’s WHERE, which begins to understand some basic information about you (e.g. your location) from your voluntarily-supplied data on your mobile device. With that information, uLocate can tell you the location of nearby businesses (Starbucks, a gas station, the closest Fedex Office or UPS store) as well as provide you with tips and reviews about local restaurants, nightspots, etc. The user doesn’t have to DO anything, other than turn on their mobile device and launch the application.
There is much improvement ahead. Some may argue that the big fight today is about real-time search, but I think that is only a new skirmish in the current Search Wars IV. Only the barest outlines of the battle formations for the big next thing are apparent today. But I am putting some of my bets on those businesses that are preparing for this world of next-generation search.
Let the battles commence….
Note: Danny Sullivan had a related post on Google’s personalized approach here.