Is "Search" Lost?


We already know that finding the right question is the most important factor in finding the solution. Where would we be if we’d never asked questions like: Why can’t we fly something heavier than air? or Why can’t people use computers to talk to each other?

Today, the business of search is getting better all the time, but have we stopped to ask what exactly does search do for us? In other words, are we so enamored with the “search” function that we’ve overlooked “why” we search in the first place?

Search now is primarily about finding the “what”. We type in words into Google, Ask, Yahoo and others and and out comes all the gazillions of references to what those words mean in a multitude of contexts. The search app has little clue as to why I’m searching for let’s say the word “set”. Today it just finds all websites that have the word “set” in it. Sure, search apps are getting better at “guessing” what I mean by my past behavior, but they are still guessing at best. Mostly because it learns which part of the results I’d clicked on before when I entered the word “set” into the search app.

OK, so why is this even a problem? I type in what I’m looking for and then I fish out the closest thing the search returns, so why should I worry about it? The problem is the “fishing out” part. Every time you search, you also have to spend increasing amounts of time to find and make meaning from your query. It adds up. It seems that we spend more and more time with technology than actually benefitting from it. More time searching, more time finding, more time sorting, more time managing, and more time worrying about what we forgot to manage...

Take for example the problem of searching for discounted hotels. Are you looking for the discount because the price is the most important factor, or because the value of where the hotel is happens to be inconsequential and thus you want to get the most value for money? What if you knew that the location had a high probability of guaranteeing a successful business deal or a romantic 1st impression with your date? How much would pure price be the factor then? I believe the solution is clear if we first understand the actual problem.

WE SEARCH TO MAKE MEANING.

In an interconnected world, words are less and less equipped to deliver meaning that is of individual value. Before we focus on adding time and place qualifiers to the “what” of search, I think we need to address the “why”.

“Set” is a perfect example of the same word meaning so many different things and mutating even more as we move through time and space. The challenge for search today is not about how fast it can return the results to “what” but, how well it understands the “why” of what you’re searching for. When I search for the word "set", current search apps don't know my context and thus they didn’t understand my meaning for “set”. Set, which happens to be the shortest word in the English language with not only the most number of meanings but in this case, also meanings relative to my current time, place, mood and more that make up the context of my search.

One way to think of it is that as we get more and more connected, our “whys” intersect in time and space and search apps can use that shared context to get clearer on our individual purposes. Another way to look at it is predefining the tool to narrow the purpose of searches ahead of time much like how we go to sites like Amazon today. Both paradigms have merit, and things like Google Co-Op are starting address them, but there's always another improvement around the corner :)... However, my objective is not about that particular debate.

I just want to make search more meaningful more quickly so that I don’t waste my time searching when I can better use my time for creating....

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