Search In The Year 2010: Part Two
Several weeks ago (seemingly years) Just Behave featured Part One of the summarized interviews with my personal dream team of search usability: Jakob Nielsen, the Web’s best-known usability guru Marissa Mayer, Google’s VP of user experience and interface design Michael Ferguson, one of the architects of Ask’s unique user experience Larry Cornett, the VP of […]
Several weeks ago (seemingly years) Just Behave featured Part One of the summarized interviews with my personal dream team of search usability:
- Jakob Nielsen, the Web’s best-known usability guru
- Marissa Mayer, Google’s VP of user experience and interface design
- Michael Ferguson, one of the architects of Ask’s unique user experience
- Larry Cornett, the VP of search experience at Yahoo!
- Justin Osmer, Product Manager for Microsoft Live search
- Chris Sherman, Executive Editor of Searchengineland and always thoughtful industry observer
- Greg Sterling, another industry analyst who always has interesting insights, particularly in the local and mobile world
- Danny Sullivan, the Go To Guy of search
In that installment, we looked at their thoughts on what the look of the search results page would be, how the algorithms would get smarter, including personalization, more functionality in the search results, and how much of that functionality might be exposed to the user, letting them get the hands on the knobs and levers to customize their search experience. Today, I’ll share the second half of those interviews, looking at mobile, what advertising might look like on the search results page, will banner blindness rear it’s head on the SERP, how our interactions might change and some bold predictions for the future.
And yes, for those of you who are wondering, this is just as long as Part One.
Will search go mobile in three years?
Nobody disputes the potential of mobile search. The question seems to be whether search will move to the mobile platform in a meaningful way in the next three years. Interestingly, there were more than a few references to the iPhone as the current standard in mobile computing.
Chris Sherman: I don’t think we’re going to see a wholesale migration. I think it’s going to be very similar to what we have in other types of devices. We started with radio, with the box, and everyone sat around in the living room and then when the car was invented we suddenly had mobile radio. It’s really the same thing, it’s just being used in different places, depending on where we’re going. I think there’s ultimately going to be a hard-core of users, much like Blackberry users are today, that will shift their focus from the desktop to the mobile device but just inherently in the size of most mobile devices there’s a lot of restrictions. Even the iPhone is, as good as webpage rendering is on that, it’s still tiny. And I think a lot of people just aren’t going to be comfortable using that interface as a primary way that they access the Web.
Larry Cornett: I think we’ve already had some pretty decent success that you’ve seen, with our OneSearch experience on the phone. I think that what’s nice about where that’s going is that it’s actually thinking about how do I structure this information so that it’s easy to interact with and consume on a small screen device. I have an iPhone and even with the iPhone, with a much larger screen, it’s a great experience but you still don’t want a full webpage. It’s not that fun to play with and try to zoom around and scroll. So when you look at these experiences that are tailored for a mobile service, it’s a much different kind of experience and you really have to take into consideration the smaller footprint and the display surface. And what is the most critical information to be given to the user for that time and probably most critical is to realize and to be very serious about the fact, this person for a phone and there’s a reason they’re doing on a phone. They’re not sitting in their office in front of a laptop and deciding to consume this experience on the phone just for the heck of it. They’re most likely out and about and what are the needs of someone is using a phone? This goes back to the intent, when you know somebody’s accessing your service through a mobile device, taking that into consideration when you’re thinking about intent and what you should be bringing back for those searches… (for example)… using GPS so that it’s trying to help you with that, so understanding where you are and bringing that context to a local search is hugely beneficial.
Justin Osmer: And mobile is just going to get bigger, including voice-enabled search, so you’ll be able to just talk into the phone, “Starbucks coffee” and it will know what corner you’re making that query from and will give you results in a radius around you to get to that information… In my mind I think of the comparison to broadband. It seems like just within the last three to five years broadband is really taken off so that’s enabled a whole lot of great web applications and websites and companies to really ramp-up their online capabilities and customers are able to get a very immersive, exciting experience because of that. I think you’re going to see a similar ramp-up with mobile carriers, not only with the networks themselves as they upgrade and update, but also with the devices. I think there’s still a ways to go with the devices and they’re only getting better. The iPhone is a great example. I was playing with that at the Apple store this weekend. I just bumped into a guy here at the cafeteria who had one. I think the devices themselves and being able to navigate through the web and being able to pull up information in a super intuitive, quick and easy way is absolutely going to start to take off and I think there will be a point, and this probably won’t happen within three years, but I would imagine in 10 years from now, there will probably be more searches on a mobile or a phone device then there would be from a PC or laptop. Because just given how, especially worldwide, mobile is taking shape and more and more people are becoming reliant on them, I think it’s absolutely going to transform itself here in the next few years.
(It should make Apple happy that the 3 people primarily responsible for the search user experience for most of us, Marissa Mayer at Google, Larry Cornett at Yahoo! and Justin Osmer at Microsoft, all either have an iPhone or are seriously looking at buying one. I didn’t have a chance to ask Michael Ferguson at Ask is he’s shopping at the Apple Store!)
Danny Sullivan feels that search just won’t go mobile, it will become ubiquitous. It will start appearing in several devices, including those that come along with us:
Danny Sullivan: I think that the next big trend is that search is going to start jumping into devices. And everything is going to have a search box. But it will be appropriate. My iPod itself will have a search capability within it. And the iPhone, to some degree, maybe it will that look at how it’s happening already. But I’ll be able to search, access, and get information appropriate to that device within it.
Search advertising in 2010
It took a long time to get advertising on search results page right. And then, when the engines finally did get it right it turned out that a simple text ad was the best. But that was within the context of a linear, text based presentation of results. Does that change significantly when our results suddenly include images and videos in the linear format may break up into more of a portal-based format?
Chris Sherman: I think it just creates more opportunities for advertising. It’s got to be really interesting to watch how that evolves because we started with actually a richer form of advertising, arguably, with banner ads and people learned to become blind to them. It was only once we got real simple basic text ads that that form of advertising really took off. So I think what we’re going to see this experimentation and a lot of creativity around the different formats.
Marissa Mayer: I think that there will be different types of advertising on the search results page. As you know, my theory is always that the ad should match the search results. So if you have text results, you have text ads, and if you have image results, you have image ads. So as the page becomes richer, the ads also need to become richer, just so that they look alive and match the page. That said, trust is a fundamental premise of search. Search is a learning activity. You think of Google and Ask and these other search engines as teachers. As an end user the only reason learning and teaching works, the only way it works, is when you trust your teacher. You know you’re getting the best information because it’s the best information, not because they have an agenda to mislead you or to make more money or to push you somewhere because of their own agenda. So while I do think the ads will look different, they will look different in format, or they may look different in placement, I think our commitment to calling out very strongly where we have a monetary incentive and we may be biased will remain. Our one promise on our search results page, and that will stand, is that we clearly mark the ads. It’s very important to us that the users know what the ads are because it’s the disclosure of that bias, that ultimately builds the trust which is paramount to search them.
Justin Osmer: For us, it’s going to be about making sure that people understand that the majority of the page, if you look at the page real estate, at least 75% of that will be the organic, and making sure that’s clear to people. For the sponsored links, I think that those are going to evolve in time as well. It’s certainly been proven out of the marketplace that there’s a lot of money to be made there and a lot of companies have become reliant on the text linked ads. As the search page becomes more robust and, potentially, more populated with graphics or a more rich experience, I think that the ads will maybe need to raise up and match that in some respects. So that there may be a time where you see, and I don’t know if this will be in three years, where you see small little banner ads or other things that are off to the side that start to replace the text links, just so they can continue to carry some weight on the page. Because I would imagine if you get to the point where you ever really great search experience but the ads are hard to see, the advertisers aren’t going to be very happy with you.
Danny Sullivan: I guess the concern might be if the natural results are getting better and better why would someone want to click on the ads anyway? Maybe people will reassess the paid results and some people will come through and say that paid search results are a form of search data base as well. So we’re going to call them classifieds or we’re going to call them ads, we’re going to move them right into the linear display. You know there’ll be issues, because at least in the US, you have the FCC guidelines that say that you should really keep them segregated. So if you don’t highlight them or blend them in some way, you might run into some regulatory problems. But then again, maybe those rules might start to change as the search innovation starts to change, and go with it from there.
Michael Ferguson: It puts increased relevance pressure on the advertising because, however that advertising is expressed, and it might not just be text ads in the future and other text based strategies as far as optimization or buying, it puts relevance pressure on the advertising because they are increasingly being presented in a more varied experience where there’s competing routes for users to take. I think that is good for end users and, in the end, good for advertisers and I think that search marketers are going to become much more, in my mind, in demand and sophisticated quickly because this is going to drive the need to coordinate a campaign across how you might present something with video how you might present something with audio and images and to fulfill the advertising opportunities that are going to come with these more rich pages. Another thing that we are seeing is more and more content is actually going to be surfaced onto the results page when there is high confidence that is relevant. there might be a time you might see people advertising and providing content not just on web pages and blogs etc. but with short discrete self contained video answers and audio answers and that those come up either as sponsored or relevant content. So you might have a breaking down of search marketing that takes some of the things that have been learned like optimization and designing good text ads and seeing how that would work when you’re delivering an audio 20 second pitch or delivering an audio content that drives traffic to your site for instance.
Do richer visual ads equal banner blindness?
Of course, anyone who’s done eye tracking studies on web pages know that banner blindness is a common occurrence when graphics and text are mixed. If this is where the search engines are going with their results page, what will that mean for graphic ads? Will we just see banner blindness once again rear its ugly head on the search results page?
Jakob Nielsen: If they put up display ads, then they will start training people to exhibit more banner blindness, which will also cause them to not look at other types of multimedia on the page. So as long as the page is very clean and the only ads are the text ads that are keyword driven, then I think that putting pictures and probably even videos on there actually work well. The problem of course is they are inherently a more two dimensional media form, and video is 3 dimensional, because it’s two dimensional – graphic, and the third dimension is time, so they become more difficult to process in this linear type of scanned document “down the page” type of pattern. But on the other hand people can process images faster, with just one fixation and you can “grok” a lot of what’s in an image, so I think that if they can keep the pages clean, then it will be incorporated in peoples scanning pattern a little bit more. “Oh this can give me a quick idea of what this is all about and what type of information I can expect”. This of course assumes as well one more thing which is that they can actually select good pictures. If there starts becoming that there are too many images, then we start seeing the obstacle course behavior. People scan around the images, as they do on a lot of corporate websites, where the images tend to be stock photos of glamor models that are irrelevant to what the user’s there for. And then people involve behavior where they look around the images which is very contrary to first principals of perceptual psychology type of predicting which would be that the images would be attractive. Images turn out to be repelling if people start feeling like they are irrelevant. It’s a similar effect to banner blindness. If there’s any type of design element that people start perceiving as being irrelevant to their needs, then they will start to avoid that design element.
(Note: Jakob recently emailed me with two links to new articles he’s written on the subject of eye tracking and banner blindness. The first confirms the presence of banner blindness and talks about some usability findings that show some unethical ways to capture clicks, and the second talks about the fact that eye tracking research has to consider user intent and so one heat map may not tell the whole story.)
What might personalization means for the future of advertising on the search results page?
Just in the last few months Google has announced that the very basic form of personalization will start impacting the ads you see on the search results page. As search engine’s embrace personalization more fully, how might this impact the presentation of ads? Obviously, they could be used to increase the relevancy of the ads to an individual but it may also impact the format of the ad served to a user, based on their identified preferences.
Chris Sherman: You’re going to see the work that they’re doing in personalization of search results is very applicable to what could be happening with advertising. Where they monitor, here’s are an array of different ad formats, from simple text links to maybe a graphic ad to potentially a video ad, and, I think, over time, as they get to know you and your preferences, you know… “I never click on that video ad,” they’ll gradually stop showing you ads in that format and maybe increase the ads in the format that you do click on.
Larry Cornett: They’d (the advertisers) love actually to be more targeted with what they’re presenting and, very similar to what we’re trying to solve in understanding query intent, this also has a huge impact for search marketing. So the more they understand about what a specific user is looking for in their context, the more intelligent they can be about what they’re actually offering the user in terms of those sponsored experiences. So I think it will allow you to be a lot more targeted with what you’re offering to a user and by being more targeted it will add more value for the users and hopefully, be a better experience for them as well.
But when does that better experience become a reality? Personalization of advertising will happen incrementally and the ability to target accurately will improve over time. For many users, it will be a mixed environment, with some very well targeted, relevant ads in some locations that don’t even look like advertising and the more typical forms of untargeted advertising we’re more familiar with. Cornett sees this as a possible differentiation point for engines and networks in the future:
Larry Cornett: I think what that’s going to do is make it quite clear to the consumers where the value is for them. I think that’s got to be a differentiation for people. Do they really want to spend time in the context where they’re seeing a lot of stuff that’s not targeted and not appropriate and might even be annoying or would they rather spend time in an environment where it seems like it could be beneficial for them. I think that’s going to be something that naturally comes out as a differentiation.
Michael Ferguson: I think that the other facet of this that might evolve is that, over time, this might be a function of personalized search. You might find one person is really getting your message and you are getting good conversions because they’re really responding to text based ads while another person who might do the same search with the same user intent, the same semantic map as you have talked about, they might respond to an audio message or video message there is going to be I think a nice expansion of the sophistication and the types of opportunities that are available for search marketers.
How will our interaction with the page change?
Obviously there are different opinions of what the search engine page might look like in 2010 correspondingly there are different opinions about what the user experience might be on the results page as well.
Marissa Mayer: I think as the results formats becomes much more heterogeneous, we’re going to have a more condensed presentation that allows for better random access. So, above the fold being really full of content, some text, some audio, some video, maybe even playing in place, and you see what grabs your attention, and pulls you in. But it’s almost like random access on the front page of the New York Times, where am I more drawn to the picture, or the chart, or this piece of content down here? What am I drawn to? So the eyes follow and they just read and scan in a linear order, where when you start interweaving charts and pictures and text, people’s eyes can jump around more, and they can gravitate towards the medium that they understand best.
Ironically, Danny uses Google as the reference point for a linear presentation when he compares them against Ask’s 3DSearch model:
Danny Sullivan: When I look at the blended search, Google’s approach is, well, we’ve got to stay linear, we’ve got to keep it all in there. That’s where people are expecting the stuff and so we’re going to go that way. Ask’s approach is we’re going to be putting it all over the place on the page and we’ve got the split, really nice interface. And I agree with them. And of course Walt Mossberg wrote that review where he said “oh they’re so much nicer, they look so much cleaner,” and that’s great, except that he’s a sophisticated person, I’m a sophisticated person, you’re a sophisticated person, we search all the time. We look at that sort of stuff. A typical person might just ignore it; it might just continue to be eye candy that they don’t even notice. And that is the big huge gamble that is going on between these two sorts of players and then yet again it might not be a gamble because when you talk to Jim Lanzone, he’s like “I tested these, this is what our people do,” and his people might be different from the Google people. Google has got a lot more new people that come over there that are like, “I just want to do a search, show me some things, where’s the ten links? I’m done!”
Michael Ferguson: We do know that there are some of the basics that we have seen before starting in the upper left with the sponsored and organic results are still a facet of how we present the results and that informed our decision to make the search results the core of the page and then compliment the search results with both aids to expression in the left column and then relevant content across the top and then the side. So that’s in play. We do know that, and this is why we ended up having the confidence in launching 3-D as our default experience, we do know that the stuff being off to the side doesn’t interfere with their consumption of the search results and that they do notice the variance, different types of content that we present. I think in large part because there are some visual aspects to them, sometimes graphical, sometimes images, sometimes a video, so we are changing how people are looking at the page. There is still that core, that need of typing in something and then reviewing the links and making a click.
Where will the innovation come from?
We all agree there will be innovation happening on the search results page in the next three years. In the last few months a surprising amount of this has come from the large players, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft. Perhaps the boldest innovator has been Ask with their introduction of search 3-D. As the search interface goes through further evolution and possibly even revolution, who will be driving this innovation?
Chris Sherman: I think we’re going to see it see far more from Ask than any of the other major players. You know, I’ve always thought of Ask is being sort of the Apple of the search world. They’ve got this really cool technology. In many ways you can argue that it’s actually works way better than their competitors in some respects and yet it’s a very, very small but loyal user base. And we’ve see Apple do this kind of innovation continuously with the Macintosh and now, of course, with the iPod and the iPhone and that sort of thing, and with their computers, at least, they still really aren’t gaining any market share, but it’s enough and they can afford to take those risks, because there are good at it. So I think Ask is in very similar position and I think they’re going to really be in the lead with most of these innovations. That said, I think Yahoo is in a real transition point as well and I’ve seen them, in the past, be willing to take risks on the user interface front so it will be interesting to see, now that Jerry Yang is back at the helm of the company, whether or not they’ll see if they can take the lead in making innovation as well. It will be really interesting to see. And even Microsoft, if you look at some of the stuff they’ve done, for example, their image search. They have that endless scroll of images, which I thought was brilliant, and the ability to resize the thumbnails which you see.
You’ll notice that Chris conspicuously left one name off his list of possible innovators, Google. I called him on this:
Chris: I just think that they are going to be the most cautious of all the players because, first of all, that kind of clean, Spartan, sparse layout has been almost religion for them from day one. It’s part of the reason why Google was so attractive people when it first emerged in the late 90s. That’s like Apple moving away from, okay you can get the Macintosh, but it has to be white. I think one of the ones that they did recently is silver or black or something, but it’s that whole idea of spare design is almost really like religion. So Google is in that kind of position and they will be by far the most conservative of all the major players.
Danny Sullivan has his own take on the Ask/Google rivalry and Google’s dilemma:
Danny Sullivan: I tend to look perhaps more kindly on what Google is doing, than some people who try to measure them up against Ask because I understand that they deal with a lot more people than Ask, and they have to be much more conservative than what Ask is doing. And I think that what’s going to happen is those two are going to approach closer together. The advantage, of course, Jim (Lanzone) has over at Ask is that he doesn’t have ads in that column so he’s got that whole column he can make use of, and it is useful, and it is a nice sort of place to tuck it in there.
Larry Cornett: The search engines (are) feeling a little more freedom to experiment with the search experience and with the design of that search page, which I find it refreshing. It hasn’t been that for a long time, and now pretty much every search engine is a feeling a little more freedom to essentially stretch their wings a bit and try some different experiences.
I then asked Larry why we seem to have seen this burst of innovation in the last few months:
Larry: Some of it might just be that it took some time for the quality of the search experience to get to a certain point that it’s become commodity. I think you see a lot of that in a lot of industries where there’s a lot of work just to get to an experience where we have actually reached a certain bar and we were actually deliver a great results to users, so what is the next thing? We could all continue to tweak and evolve how do we present better results to users but then, what is the next big thing?
And what about Ask themselves? What is the strategy behind their pushing the innovation envelope? Michael Ferguson believes it’s all about brand differentiation:
Michael: I think that more and more of the experiences of brand is going to have to do with the search results page as opposed to thinking of the home page. Over time, different engines brands have thought of their home page as the flagship. But really from a business model standpoint, there are so many different contexts that people are experiencing the search results pages now… you have a large and small screens that are increasingly getting larger and increasingly getting smaller and more mobile etc. and you’re going to want as a brand, any of the search engines, you’re going to want an experience that is consistent across those that has a flavor. If all the pages from all the engines look the same, the ten blue links, those days are over and that’s why we felt so confident in asserting the Ask 3-D view there because we knew that people were ready for that. There is also the other business reasons… more and more with large screens I’m seeing people in social situations, surfing and searching together, so again that is another opportunity for us and for others to think about what does the search results page say about your brand and about your unique experience and features. So that is another facet.
We talked earlier about Google potentially creating two flavors of Google, one for power users and Google base for the average user. Theoretically, this gives Google the ability to be bolder with innovation on the elite property without risking jarring or alienating a huge base of users, and take the winners from that test bed and move them into Google Basic. Greg Sterling and I mused about that theory:
Greg Sterling: I think that… that is a good thesis and it does (get Google out of their innovator’s dilemma) to a degree. They can create these separate tracks for the power user and roll out some of those well tested and adopted features to the broader group more gradually. I think one of the reasons why universal search does not look like much of a change is for that very reason you have just described… Ask could go much farther because they have less to lose. They need to take risks and obviously because of their position. Google has a tremendous amount to lose as you point out… so I do think that that is an interesting solution in some ways to the Innovators dilemma… so I would agree with that.
The convergence of search and entertainment
Increasingly, the lines between all our screens are becoming blurred. We watched on the likelihood of search and going mobile in a significantly in the next three years. The other area of convergence is between our TV screens and our computer screen. Will search open up new world of entertainment for us in the next three years?
Chris Sherman: It’s a huge opportunity for research because right now, it basically sucks. You got TiVo and that’s “searchable” but not really and not on a minute by minute or keyword phrase sort of level. In terms of really integrating with a music collection… I would love to have a search that could help me pinpoint the various… I’ve got 10,000 songs on my iPod and it’s absurd. There’s very little out there that can help with that and is primarily my fault, it’s not the search tools themselves are poor, it’s that with that kind of quantity of information or entertainment available to me, I can’t remember everything that I’ve got. So I think there’s a huge opportunity there.
An opportunity perhaps, but Chris is not overly optimistic about the search engine’s ability to become more “human” in indexing our entertainment options:
Chris: The problem is that kind of stuff will work well if you have an audio soundtrack that’s relatively straightforward and is maybe more of a documentary, factual type of information. Where it’s really going to have a problem is interpreting things like body language in drama, or things like irony or parody. Those are human things that are almost impossible without lots and lots of experience as a human being living and interacting with other people… how is a computer going to figure that out? That’s a huge challenge in my mind.
Bold predictions for the future
Without exception, all our respondents felt frustrated by the limitations of a three-year timeline. It’s difficult to rein in your enthusiasm for where search might go and keep it corralled in a fairly restrictive three-year horizon. So each stepped beyond the boundary imposed on them by the 2010 horizon and speculated on what search might become in the future.
Chris Sherman brought up the concept of the Star Trek computer often trotted out by Craig Silverstein from Google.
Chris: But I think as we look much farther down I think the search results page ultimately might even go away. We might not have what we consider to be results in the sense that we know them today. We’ve had Craig Silverstein and Sergey Brin and all those guys from Google talking about how they’d love to turn Google into the computer on Star Trek and I think part of that is obviously the intelligence that they’re trying to build into a but the other very obvious part is people on Star Trek talked to the computer and the computer talked back to them. They don’t interact with it in a way that we interact with Google today. It was a totally different experience.
Meanwhile, another movie was on the mind of Marissa Mayer: Minority Report. She’s wondering what multi-touch displays might do for search in the far-off distant future
Marissa: I ran into Jeff Han both of the past years at TED. Basically he was doing multi-touch before they did it on the iPhone on a giant wall sized screen, so it actually does look a lot like Minority report, it was this big space where you could interact, you could annotate, you could do all those things.
A few people also mentioned particular area of interest for me (okay, maybe I prompted them a little) and that’s bringing search functionality to a virtual world interface. At some point in the future will our online interface looks very much like the real world, with search allowing us to navigate virtually and instantly from one place to another?
Chris Sherman: Absolutely, that whole idea of creating sort of a virtual world, if you will, I think it’s fascinating. There is EveryScape.com, which blew me away. They’re stitching together images of San Francisco, of Union Square, in much the way the Photosynth does. It’s just remarkable, it’s the closest thing to an immersion experience that I’ve seen yet on the web and they’re planning on doing this for other locations. So basically you can walk into buildings, you mouse over and it tells you what it is; it’s really, really cool.
One of the coolest things I’ve seen in the past little while is the demo of Microsoft’s table top computer, which takes advantage of the multi touch capabilities that Marissa is referring to demonstrated by Jeff Han.
Justin Osmer: That’s going to be a great product. I think you’ll first see that on the enterprise side before you see consumers snatching those things up. It makes a perfect scenario in my mind for the hotel lobby. You know the hotel concierge is going to be like the Maytag man here pretty quickly because you’ll be able to sit down at the table and map out your whole itinerary for the trip, be able to read the news from local paper and it will all be right there on that table top in the lobby or potentially even in your room at some point. So I think that’s a really fascinating technology and it’s very exciting.
Danny Sullivan: Windows Media Center, when I first got that in 2005, I said, this is amazing, because it’s basically got TV search built into it. I do the search and then of course, it allows me to subscribe to the program, and records the program, and knows when the next ones are coming up. And it makes so much more sense for that search to be in that device than it did for me to have it elsewhere. I use it all the time, when I want to know when a programs on, I don’t have to find where the TV listings are on the web, I just walk over to my computer and do a TV listing search from Media Center player. So I think we’re going to have many more devices that are internet enabled, and there’s going to be reasons why you want to do searches with them, to find stuff for them in particular. That’s going to be the new future of search and search growth will come into it. And in terms of what that means to the search marketer, I think it’s going to be crucial to understand that these are going to be new growth areas.
Jakob Nielsen was probably the most cautious of all, believing that big advances in improving relevancy are at least a decade or two away:
Jakob: I think if you look very far ahead, you know 10, 20, 30 years or whatever, then I think there can be a lot of things happening in terms of natural language understanding and making the computer more clever than it is now. If we get to that level then it may be possible to have the computer better guess at what each person needs without the person having to say anything, but I think right now, it is very difficult. The main attempt at personalization so far on the web is Amazon.com. They know so much about the user because they know what you’ve bought which is a stronger signal of interest than if you had just searched for something. You search for a lot of things that you may never actually want, but actually paying money; that’s a very, very strong signal of interest. Take myself, for example. I’m a very loyal shopper of Amazon. I’ve bought several hundred things from them and despite that they rarely recommend (successfully)… sometimes they actually recommend things I like but things I already have. I just didn’t buy it from them so they don’t know I have it. But it’s very, very rare that they recommend something where I say, “Oh yes, I really want that”. (And yes, Greg Linden, I know you’re out there. I welcome a “Geeking with Greg” blog post offering a counterpoint to Jakob’s observation).
So, that’s the wrap up of the Interviews. In my next column (which should be in two weeks) we’ll share some findings from the eye tracking follow up we did based on what we got out of these interviews. And for those who want a really long read, drop by our site and download the 62 page white paper. Thanks to all my interviewees. It was fascinating for me to get to chat with each of you about the future of search.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.