In a wide ranging interview with Tech Crunch's Michael Arrington on Wednesday at Le Web in Paris, Google's Marissa Mayer talked about all things Google, but what I found most interesting was when the conversation turned toward the future of search. Mayer said the key to the future of search lies in personalization. This harks back to my post the other day called The Online Information Pardox regarding how we can find ways to deal with online information overload and get at the information that matters most to us as individuals.
Search certainly has a key role in helping us sift through the mountains of information and semantic search, where the search engine has a sense of the meaning and context of our search, which is essentially what Mayer refers to when she cites personalization, could be the key to helping us access the data that's most relevant to us.
Make it Personal
Mayer said in the future, Google (and presumably other search tools) will understand more about the user and be able to deliver more relevant information based on that knowledge. "We think that when you look at the winning search engine in 2020 and what traits it's likely to have, we think the one thing that will be true is that it will understand more about you the user." What this means, she says, is that the search will understand more about your preferences and be able to to deliver more relevant results.
She says even today, Google is finding ways to learn more about users via their location and their last search. She says the last search in particular may give clues as to what you are looking for based on what you looked at and what you discarded. This can help today build a better result set.
Mayer admits even she doesn't have the details of how this will happen, but she intuitively understands it's where search engines need to go in the future. "We don't know what the big signals will be that will fuel personalized search," she said, "but we are willing to posit that in the future personalized search will be one of the traits of leading search engines."
Other Future Search Drivers
Among the other future search components according to Mayer are modes and media (video and audio search). Modes refer to the ways users interact with search engines and the types of results you get back. To a certain extent Google is working on that today. It recently released, for instance, a voice-driven search app for the iPhone, but modes aren't just about devices and methods of interacting with the search engine, they also have to do with providing the best results, whether that's a URL, a video, a book and so forth. To some extent Google provides those types of results now, but there could be a future where you don't have to search for images, blogs and video separately because the best results, regardless of the type will be displayed.
Mayer said that really good video facial recognition is still years away because, she says, the onslaught of video makes it harder and harder to identify faces. When you have a world of possibilities in say the 100,000 range, it's an easier nut to crack than when you move to a million or more because the potential for look-alikes becomes all that much greater. And of course, it's impossible to have this discussion without social aspect of searching, of interacting with search engines, in the same way we interact with each other, to find a restaurant, a good movie or a great blog entry.
These future drivers that Mayer describes are the keys to the future of search and Google is researching and innovating today in small ways. They have experimented with facial recognition and audio search. They have dabbled in mixed search results and taken baby steps in personalization, and it's important that Google understands the needs and is looking for ways to get there.
There are larger issues of course around privacy that will always permeate any Google discussion, especially where personalization and understanding more about user habits is concerned, but for today at least, it's about helping us get to the most relevant information, and the good news is that some very smart people are working on it. The bad news is that we are years away from a solution.