I am a search addict. I’m naturally inquisitive – I’ve always liked finding things out. Plus, I’ve worked at Google on search for the past 9 years and 3 months. Of course I search – a lot. Yet I would guess that on any given day, I only do about 20% of the searches that I could. This past Saturday, I kept track of the things that came up in conversation that I wanted to search for right then but couldn’t:
Are “fab,” “goy” and “eely” words? (There was a Scrabble game going on.) What time does J.C. Penney open on Saturday? Which school has a team called the Banana Slugs? What is the team mascot for San Jose State? How much power does that hydroelectric dam generate? What do you call a group of turkeys? What time does Tropic Thunder show? What’s the name of that great Irish flute player, first name James? What’s the name of the largest city in Russia after Moscow and St. Petersburg? Which is older, a redwood or a cypress? What’s the oldest living thing and how old is it? Who sings “Queen of Hearts”? What kind of bird is that flying over there? Is the “LF” in San Francisco on Union Square or Union Street? What are the dance steps to the Charleston? What day of the week was The Lawrence Welk Show on? What are the lyrics to “In the Mood”? How does Coumadin differ from aspirin in its blood thinning effects? What was the story behind the naming of the number “googol”?
And those are just the ones that I remember. Looking at this list, two things are very clear: (1) I could do a lot more searches and (2) search still has a lot of opportunity for innovation, change, and progress. There are lots of ways that search will need to evolve in order to easily meet user needs. Let’s look at some of my unanswered questions from Saturday and consider how search might change over the next 10 years.
First, why couldn’t I do these searches right then, when I needed to? Because search still isn’t accessible enough or easy enough. Search needs to be more mobile – it should be available and easy to use in cell phones and in cars and on handheld, wearable devices that we don’t even have yet. For example, when the topic of the oldest living thing came up during a boat ride, everyone in the conversation was curious about it, but no one wanted to break out an awkward, slow device to do a search. It would be much nicer if we had a device with great connectivity that could do searches without interruption. One far-fetched idea: how about a wearable device that does searches in the background based on the words it picks up from conversations, and then flashes relevant facts?
This notion brings up yet another way that “modes” of search will change – voice and natural language search. You should be able to talk to a search engine in your voice. You should also be able to ask questions verbally or by typing them in as natural language expressions. You shouldn’t have to break everything down into keywords.
Further, why should a search be words at all? Why can’t I enter my query as a picture of the birds overhead and have the search engine identify what kind of bird it is? Why can’t I capture a snippet of audio and have the search engine identify and analyze it (a song or a stream of conversation) and tell me any relevant information about it? Services that do parts of that are available today, but not in an easy-to-use, integrated way.
In the next 10 years, we will see radical advances in modes of search: mobile devices offering us easier search, Internet capabilities deployed in more devices, and different ways of entering and expressing your queries by voice, natural language, picture, or song, just to name a few. It’s clear that while keyword-based searching is incredibly powerful, it’s also incredibly limiting. These new modes will be one of the most sweeping changes in search.