Well it’s nice for Matt Cutts to come out and as usual toe the usual corporate line, this time he’s taken time out of his busy day to talk us through Google’s 10 year view of the future of Search. I think the point about search is not how search will operate but rather how the revenue Google enjoy through search will radically change over the next 10 years. Search will be the cornerstone of everything as always however, I wonder where it leaves the model for companies like Google.
This is the video on Youtube of Matt Cutts: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JMY-iNnqUIo
So what exactly makes this interesting other than hawking Google products and proclaiming their future is the way forward? Not much really. Search as Google know is will be a thing of the past within 20 years. What on earth makes me think that? Simple, search today earns money for the company that have built the capability to allow users to perform a single search across the entire web. Search earns them money by displaying advertising with the search results. Let me tell you something right now, when we have achieved the natural conclusion of interfaces there will not be any advertising among results. Woah, wait, what? No advertising? Nope.
Let’s think about the purpose of search for a second. Why do I search for something? Putting aside the different motivations at the core of every search I perform is the desire to FIND SOMETHING. Now in an ideal world, every time I search for something I will find something that satisfies my desire. Where does advertising fit in with this? It’s a big question. Marketing folk will tell you advertising should put something of value in front of me when I search. Guess what, it doesn’t. It’s just more noise. Let’s set that aside for a second and talk about the changing interface.
The Evolution of the Interface
You know the phrase “can’t see the wood for trees”? We’re in a forest of different interfaces right now. Smart tv (yuck), gaming consoles, tablets, visors, smart phones, pcs, apple macs, holographic projectors, skype, and, if Google can persuade you; Google Glasses. You see all these have their own approach to the interface. You can have anything up to 10-20 different interfaces to technology in your every day life. Now if you’re old enough think back to the 70s and 80s, and think about the TV in your home. What happened to the interface? How did you change channel for example? Yep, you got up from you seat about 10 feet from the TV, walked over to it and pressed a button. Then you looked at the TV and decided if you were happy with the choice you had made, and then you went and sat back down. In the 80s the interface changed beyond all recognition. Gone were the days of going for a quick stroll to the TV, replaced by a remote control. You now had a direct interface to the TV in your hand. The interface had moved closer to you, your hand. While this may not have been quite a true Monolith moment (I assume you have seen the film 2001, or read the book?) it was just a stepping stone on the evolutionary curve of the interface. What is the key part? Distance.
So where does Google Glass fit in? Well it’s another stepping stone. Is it a major jump? Not really. But why? Because ultimately it’s just answering a visual step and frankly it’s only taking the military hud and making it available to the general public at an affordable price. And here is the key to where we are today and will be for at least the next 5 years; no-one knows how to answer the human machine interface as a whole. Google glasses are one answer to the question but it’s a visual answer, there is no real answer to how we interface in the other ways; input. Voice? Come on, we can’t all stand in a station talking to our computer can we? That’s a tricky one actually. We are all more than happy to waffle into our mobile phones in public after all so ok, let’s assume Google Glasses have the computational power to handle voice recognition…..oh hold up. I’ve sort of moved on already to talk about something that Google Glasses can’t do yet….you see, there is no answer to the interface provided by Google, but their new product is an step change in the same way touch screen smart phone and tablets were. But they are not the “Answer”.
What is the path that I’m describing as the evolution of the interface? Simple. The interface is moving closer to the human brain. Visually Google Glasses will be followed rapidly by the contact lens and then it’s a matter of time before a physical link to the brain is created but when that happens is anybody’s guess. But it is highly likely that will become available at the same time or very close to the human race achieving the Technological Singularity. I will write more about the augmented reality contact lens later this year when it becomes clearer where development is.
What does all this have to do with Search?
This is the real highlight for me. I do not believe for one second our interface to the information available online will continue to exist in its current guise. Google Search may exist in some capacity but it will be there as either a fall back or a baseline web service (yes I may get slightly technical here). In 10 years our computers and networks will be faster and more powerful. We already have clouds of on demand power available at a price that would have seemed incredible just 5 years ago. With more power at the client and at the server we can do something hitherto unachievable; personal search. Now Google are trying to build this today, but I believe it will be part of the answer not the whole and for Google Search that is the problem. For me it is inevitable that we will have an online avatar that represents us online in every technical sense of the word. To get the data we need for our business and our personal lives our avatar will interface with every system is has authority to access as well us act as our representative online. It will know our schedule, our desires, what information that is relative to our location and our immediate goal as well as everything that it believes will help us in our lives. It will negotiate for information if it does not have access and then present us the information back to us at a time when it is relevant to us and in a format that we want, editable in an instant.
Guess what, this is basically Google’s vision too, except they believe they can do it all themselves. I do not believe they can I do not believe they will. I believe it will be based on a platform that will run in a small box about the size of your smart phone and this will be the center of your universe whether you have access online or otherwise.
Ok so I’ve once again drifted, this relates simply to the future of search because the second we have avatars and it is the thing that does the digging for the data we want the second we remove the advertising. For an example look at RSS feeds. Every day I get a feed of the things I’m interested in. Guess what, no advertising. And that is why Google Search has a limited life span as we know it.
I should say I am a massive fan of Google. Their work to push forward Google Glasses has been incredibly exciting (as with Android and so many other seriously amazing things they do) and I’ll buy a pair as soon as I can, but I will never subscribe to the idea that the information we seek should and will be presented along side advertising at the level of the search results.
So Matt Cutts, your thoughts are interesting but are in my opinion terribly short sited. But then I’m a futurist, and sometimes we’re wrong too!