The word ‘search’ is a negative word. It fairly reeks of loss and effort. You lose your car keys and you search for them. Your pet runs away and you search for her. Having to search implies loss. It implies effort. Search is a means to an end. You search to rescue; you seek to find. There is little that is pleasant about the process itself. The only time to feel good about a search is when it ends, successfully.
Now, let’s consider those car keys for a moment. You lose them once and you search for them. Lose them again and you repeat the search. Lose them enough times and you’ll get better at finding them because you’ll know where you tend to leave them. That’s the thing about search, you can redo it from scratch or you can pay attention and not have to search so much. And your lost pet? Lose a beloved pet once and you are unlikely to lose her again. Not because you’ve gotten better at search, but because you now take pains not to lose her a second time. You can be stupid about search if you like, or you can be thoughtful and more organized so you decrease your reliance on it. You don’t have to search for things that are not lost.
We could do the same thing online, be thoughtful and organized, but we don’t. We start from scratch each time. We search for things we’ve already found.
The problem with Internet search is that being stupid about it is profitable. The more ugly blue links you serve up, the more time users have to click on ads. Serve up bad results and the user must search again and this doubles the number of sponsored links you get paid for. Why be part of the solution when being part of the problem pays so damn well? It’s 2012 and we are still typing search queries into a text box. Now you know why, a ‘find engine’ swims in the shallow end of the profit pool. Is it any surprise that technology such as Siri came from a company that doesn’t specialize in search? (Where do you place an ad in a Siri use case?)
There’s no more reason to expect search breakthroughs from Google than there is to expect electric car batteries to be made by Exxon.
We can do better. We’ve been searching for over a decade. We know every place possible where the online equivalent of car keys are found. We know where our online pet is, always. We know so many things about the world that no longer need to be served up as search “results.” (Results indeed! If users ever wake up and divorce their search engine, the “results” page is likely to be exhibit A in the separation hearing.)
Search, my friends, is broken. Finding things has become secondary to monetizing the search process. Fixing this situation is not in the best interest of the incumbents. Which, actually, is all well and good because the fix will need a more web-wide effort anyway. The companies that own the data sources, the companies that ingest, store and conflate that data, the myriad small development shops that do interesting things with the data, the cleverness of the people who curate the data and the power of crowdsourced know-how need to come together and make search … better? No, not better, irrelevant.
Search is dead. The web doesn’t need it and neither do we.