Where is search headed? The way it has always been headed: “Get people with a question to the right answer as quickly and effortlessly as possible”. Lets take a look at how this is going to happen in the years to come.
The search for information has been with humanity forever, but something very revolutionary happened in the late 20’s century: Access to the world wide web. Google in particular exploited the need for people to seek information. They indexed and organised all the worlds information accessible via the world wide web as placed it behind a search bar, where you were able to ask questions. Although a lot happened since then with the arrival of mobile and social networks, access to information via the web remains to this day very similar to how it was the past 2 decades. We go to a search engine, type in our question and hope to find a useful answer somewhere on the web.
In recent years, useful technologies have been evolved to help us access information faster and more efficiently including auto-completion, location services, voice activated search, chat-bots, asking a friend via chat or asking an intelligent assistant (an artificial friend) that understands “somewhat” our intent, context, location and history based on the data it has about us.
Every search query ultimately needs to be assisted in the best and most efficient way. For example, when you are driving with your hands and eyes tied on the road, voice activated search should be leading (until cars drive themselves and that will change the dynamic). Voice is not very handy in crowded areas or around other people in social events and quite places, so in these environments, typing will always be the preferred way to ask a question. On a mobile device where typing can sometimes be cumbersome (your on the go, or have giant thumb syndrome), auto-completion is handy as it gets you there faster and more efficiently. But can it be smarter? How can we get people with a question to the right answer as quickly and effortlessly as possible without sending them through a maze of webpages that more often then not fail to satisfy the user on a mobile device or are loaded with ads the user does not want to see.
The successful companies will be the ones that help the user get to their answer or desired need as effortlessly as possible. It will not be any one company but a range of very specialized behavioral platforms that allow the users to decide and puts them in control of everything. The software will just work seamlessly to bring the user the best possible way to get what they want. If they start typing auto-completion kicks in, if they start speaking the voice activated assistant kicks in, if they call a chat-bot with @ then the bots start working. If they chose to speak out loud then the assistant helps to recruit the right app or device to get them what they want.
Google, Apple, Microsoft Bing, Amazon (and many others) are all becoming highly fluid and distributed. You can’t expect the future generations of internet users to come to you. Destinations are dying unless they serve a very specific purpose and need. To stay in business, these companies will have to go to to the user. That’s why I feel intelligent assistants and chatbots, accessed through mobile devices and messengers have a very good chance of growing in popularity in the near future once artificial intelligence (machine learning) and greater adoption (generation of data to become smarter) get better. This will of course require the internet user to be OK with sharing their behavioral data. We will resist as long as we can as we have seen “the before”, but the new generations born into this age will not resist.
People are clearly enjoying messengers to connect and communicate. We spend most of out time in them when on mobile devices. These platforms of attention will become enriched with products, services, information and task completion features that the user will call upon when they need them. I am talking about the apps we know so well: Whatsaap, Facebook messenger, Snapchat, Instagram, Wechat, Line and so on. There are 100’s soon to be 1000’s of these platforms in development and they are about to be enriched with access to smart IA (intelligent assistants) and chatbots.
Advertising in these platforms will not be the ads we are all use to, they will be smart things helping people to complete tasks and answer questions. These task completion services will be the “Ad” and companies will buy into helping people to complete tasks (getting information, buying products, getting things done…). This type of advertising will become highly programmatic and delivered via smart AI and IA delivered through enhanced highly interconnected DMPs (Data management platforms) that hold a lot more data about the user than what we are currently use to.
These DMPs will store and use your information to understand what you need and want…often before you ask for it ….it’s already happening. And as machine learning continues to get better, it will happen more and more and get better and future generations will adopt and like it. For us (older generations), its still a bit scary, but all new things are scary at first until they become old and we forget, and adopt.
Technology companies really need to see how they can build in artificial intelligence and chatbot capabilities into their platforms. Make them smarter. Even if it’s just to tell a story and impress people at first, arouse curious and get them paying attention to what you are doing. From there you build it to something that could become valuable in 2-5 years from now when traditional advertising starts to look shaky as people increasingly interact with intelligent assistants and chatbots for search needs and start to consume content and products in platforms other than websites and search engines. Bye-bye having to go to websites (they will remain as a source of information…for now). Bye-Bye search engine results pages (these will embed into apps). Bye-Bye search and display ads as we know them today (no one will be there to see the ads anymore)….it will take a while, but its not if it will happen but when. And that when will be in the coming decade. But realize we are on a rising tide with the connected internet population about to double in the next 4-5 years as Google, Facebook and the telecommunication companies try to hook up the world. But there lies the danger. This rising tide that rises all boats will mask the subtle shift of the consumer to platforms where advertising is not yet plugged into and smart enough to be relevant and useful. It will happen gradually, and then all of a sudden.
Searching for information, content, products and services will be embedded in apps and messengers and social/behavioral platforms that users trust and have a vested interest in as this is where all their friends are and where their digital lives are happening. Exactly what platforms this will be nobody knows, but you do not need to look far. The answers are all around us. Just understanding how the younger generations search for information and consume content. They are in apps, messengers and social platforms. They go less and less to websites and search engines as the content is now coming to them in their behavioral space of choice, which will keep changing as better solutions hit the market and marketers keep ruining platforms of attention by telling irrelevant stories and interrupting people.
So you need to be ready, flexible and highly adaptive to change to follow the attention as it moves faster and faster. If you want to understand what the future will look like, ask your children.
But don’t take my word for it. Listen to the people actually building the future… Google, Facebook and Microsoft’s CEOs are building it right now…
And here is a more practical keynote that addresses the reality of today and how people will increasingly start to search in the next 1-2 years before chatbots and virtual assistants or intelligent assistants start to become part of our daily lives. This keynote is full of practical examples on how you can search today!
Google has always been building an AI. And that AI is starting to take the form of a virtual or intelligent assistant helping us within the google search App. But this assistant will soon infiltrate just about every Google device where search and verbal interaction is needed.
What this short promo video of the Google assistant google is building:
And if you really want to get into this and you have gotten this far… watch Sundar Pichai in one of his more recent keynotes where he talks about where Google is headed.
You should hopefully now have a pretty good idea on where search is headed 🙂
Any questions let me know!