The impending IPO of Google, which is making noises all over Silicon Valley and Wall Street has gotten everyone thinking about search, including me.
There are a lot of people who think that digital media is a pull model, not a push model, and that search is the ultimate user interface for a pull media model. The data certainly bears that out. I just came from a meeting with a person who runs a large digital media business and i heard that a survey they did showed that search was the number one way that people access digital media.
My experience as a consumer of digital media bears that out. I use Google to search like most everyone else. I also use Yahoo! to search since its still my start page (because the My Yahoo service is still better than any other start page i’ve ever found). But even more importantly, when i use Amazon, i always start with a search. When i use Moviephone or Fandango, i always start with a search. Even when i go to the New York Times, i generally do a search after scanning the front page (and the New York Times’ search is the worst i’ve found on the internet for a major site). So I do a lot of searching when i am on the Internet.
I also use search as the primary way i access TV shows on my DVR. I use search as the primary way i access music on iTunes. And i use search as the primary way i access files on my laptop.
But i don’t totally buy the push model argument. You would always need to know exactly what you want to find in a pure pull model. So the push model where media companies have editors determine what’s likely to be of interest still has relevance to me. And i bet it does to most Internet users.
I also think we’ve only seen the beginning of what search can do. Google, which is arguably the best search on the Internet, is still pretty bad. If you are a librarian or know how to write really good search queries, you can get pretty decent results. But most people don’t. And the ecommerce aspects of Google still aren’t that great. If you type in a product that is available widely on the Internet, the first links you see are rarely to the most popular sites (Amazon, Walmart, Best Buy, etc). They are usually to some no name ecommerce site you’ve never used.
So a lot needs to be done in the search world. Maybe Google will continue to innovate and deliver better and more relevant search. Maybe Yahoo! will come screaming back and start to roll out stuff that’s better than Google. I am sure that’s their plan. But i wonder if someone else may come into this search business with something new and different and change the game. Amazon and eBay clearly have the opportunity to do more with ecommerce. And the traditional media companies, particularly the newspapers, could do something interesting if they wanted to take some big risks. Certainly, they have a lot to loose if they don’t. And maybe Microsoft has something up their sleeve that is game changing. They have done that a lot in the past when they were late to a market.
I also think social software (blogging, social networking, etc) has something to add to this mix. Self publishing is an important filter that could add something to the way users find relevance in the digital media world.
Audience management also has the possibility to add something. The more a search service knows about each user and what their behavior has been in the past, the easier it will be to deliver relevance to them.
So i think that search is a big deal. And that we are going to see a lot more innovation around search going forward. But i do not think search is the only thing that matters in a digital media world. I think editorial still matters. I think audience management matters. I think one to one communication via email, IM, or some other communications medium matters. And I think social software and self publishing matters. Which is to say that search isn’t the only thing i am thinking about. And i think it shouldn’t be the only thing on the Internet that wall street, silicon valley, the digital media companies, and VCs should be thinking about either.