Tech Tuesday: The Information Superhighway

May 25, 2010

Today I spent some time thinking about the future. For me, thinking about the future is a guilty pleasure of sorts. I can have it all figured out on a theoretical level – or at least try my best – but I don’t have to actually execute, which is of course the hardest part. The part that surprisingly so few are good at. No, I’m not a futurist. Certainly not a self-proclaimed one. I’ll only let someone give me the title “futurist” until I’ve made the future, not predicted it.

Anyway, I digress. Today I spent sometime thinking about the future of the web. Search is still the most powerful tool the web has to offer and search marketing is still leagues above any other internet business model. It’s arguably the most powerful business model in the world. It works because billions of times per month we’re trying to find stuff (a.k.a “intent”) and for some percentage of that time advertisers take advantage of knowing our intent to try to convince us that their stuff is stronger, faster and better given our intentions. And according to an acquaintance of mine who wrangles search products at Google, a company that knows a thing or two about these matters, user happiness metrics indicate that advertisers can often provide us better information than that which is available to us otherwise on the web.

So the world’s stuff is at our fingertips and search engines make money by letting business compete to tell us where the best stuff is. What will disrupt that business? What will be the next tool or set of tools to be infinitely valuable to us while also generating businesses billions of dollars? When I asked myself this question recently, I began to immediately think of ways that search could be better, but it soon dawned on me that better search seems unlikely. That includes vertical search I might add. I wouldn’t bet on another company finding the talent, the upfront capital, the IP loopholes, and the 13 years of search logs needed to achieve the same level of relevancy that major search engines have today. I’m going to posit that the answer to search is not search at all.

What if we didn’t have to search? What if we stopped searching and started finding? What if we were constantly positioned in the middle of some kind of an information superhighway (shout out to The World of Goo) that we build ourselves? Information would not be sought out, but rather plucked out of a stream of what was available right then and there in the moment we needed it. I know it sounds improbable. Impossible maybe. But if we continue to be more connected to information via all of the devices from which we now consume it and our friends, family, co-workers and people we follow continue to share every detail of their lives and thoughts via all of the services to which we subscribe, then theoretically the probability that we have recently stumbled on something we’re looking for will increase.

To give an example, imagine a world in which the answer to the question, “Which steakhouse should I go to when visiting NYC?” could be answered by a friend of yours from New York completely coincidentally posting within a very short timeframe of that thought, “Sam Sifton, the NY Times food critic, just tweeted that Striphouse is to be announced as the NY Times Best Steakhouse of 2010. Sweet!” This example would be possible given two huge assumptions: 1) We are aware of people who possess information typically relevant to us and 2) We are somehow connected to the information highway those people produce. Well, I think that trends would suggest that these assumptions are not too unrealistic. I think it will take some time for this behavior of finding not seeking to come of age. Quite a long time actually. But I do believe that it will begin to steal from search bit by bit in the years to come. Brands and business will make money not only by monetizing our intent in search, but by building real relationships with consumers to earn their attention – the loyalty of their eyes, ears and fingertips as they experience the information superhighway day in and day out.

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2 Responses to “Tech Tuesday: The Information Superhighway”

  1. Todd Barnard Says:

    Great post!

    A lot of what you are speculating about is actually alive and well in the Activity Streams spec;

    http://activitystrea.ms/head/activity-schema.html

    Check it out. Currently in use by Facebook, Google Buzz, Myspace and soon to be adopted to Twitter annotations.

  2. Miles Lennon Says:

    Todd,

    Thanks for the link. Very interesting stuff!

    -Miles


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