Found: The Next Thing After Search

The evolution of search is unfolding right before our eyes

When Google’s search engine was founded in 1998, the service dealt with 10,000 searches a day. Just one year later, and this number had risen to 3.5 million. Whilst Google has become synonymous with search, it was the Internet that transformed the way that people accessed information. Instead of turning to an encyclopaedia or a dictionary, they would go online. As technology becomes more interactive, these habits are changing yet again. Although the Internet holds the relevant data to answer our questions, the way that we get hold of it will become far more diverse. And as important as Google may be, the tech giants aren’t the only ones to watch. Facebook and Blippar are hot on their heels, using machine learning and Artificial Intelligence to deliver innovative search options. So, how exactly will we access information in the future, and who, if anyone, will win search?

How will we search for answers in the future?
People are used to typing their queries into search engines using good old fashioned text, but new ways of finding information are challenging this existing model. For instance, smartphone features like Siri and Cortana can search the web for their owners, and all the user does is ask a verbal question. The expansion of vocal search is reflective of a general trend of natural conversation with technology. Look at Apple’s wireless AirPods – they may not have been hugely successful, but they enable verbal interactions with tech. Chatbots represent another step towards vocal search. Text and speech are great when you want specific answers to direct questions, but what if you wanted to find out the name of an unknown animal, or the ingredients of an unfamiliar dish? AR company Blippar is working on the creation of an encyclopedia of everything, which uses image recognition to relay information. The company sees potential in verbal search, especially as a seventh of the global population is illiterate. . . and if you can search via photo, why not video too? In terms of whether a single company can ‘win’ search, it entirely depends on which method people are willing to adopt.

However, it may not just be about winning search. Google, for example, has collected masses of data from inquisitive users and has a distinct interest in Artificial Intelligence. What better way to fuel AI than to use billions upon billions of human searches? Facebook is taking this route too, announcing that their AI will analyse content for photo and video searches. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that search is geared towards AI development. By using data from search engines, AI can begin to understand how and why humans ask questions, which will help it to imitate them more accurately.

How will new search methods disrupt the way we find info?
The expansion of new search methods will clearly disrupt the way that people access information. Visual and verbal search are both far more interactive than text-based queries – and if people can search without needing to stare at a screen, they’ll spend less time on mobile devices. Once everything becomes connected under the Internet of Things, everyday objects will become hubs for important information. The fridge, for example, will be able to tell if the milk has gone off, and it may even explain why it’s a bad idea to drink it (aside from the awful taste). The ultimate result of so much data availability will result in ubiquitous information, and the world will become a searchable reality. Traditional, text-based search engines will still have a place, as people will use them for specific questions – or ones they don’t particularly want to say out loud. From a business perspective, the expansion of search presents interesting opportunities. Just like text-based searches, marketers could use new search methods to advertise products and services. If you use a photo of pizza as part of a visual search, Dominoes might pop up and suggest a takeaway. Verbal, visual and video search could also affect how we communicate. At the moment, sending a photo or video in response to a question might seem strange, but this could change as search becomes more visual.

The evolution of search is unfolding right before our eyes. Verbal search is already a reality, but its success depends on whether consumers will continue to adopt vocal, conversational interfaces. The expansion of visual search relies on IoT connectivity and AI that can exceed human image recognition, but this too is already used by consumers. Video search is the next step in the progression, but what next? By making everything smart, the Internet of Things is a key enabler for innovative search. This ultra-connected network of real-time data will gather and relay data at a rate that Google would be proud of. It remains uncertain as to which methods and companies will come out on top, but Facebook, Google and Blippar are certainly readying themselves for a search show-down.

Which new method of search do you think has the most potential? Will verbal, visual and video replace text-based questions? Is Google more interested in developing AI than in winning search? Share your thoughts and opinions.