Tag - search

Google and the future of local search

I just spent the last 18 months of my life wrestling with better ways to do local search.

How to find the local events that matter to you, the local businesses that you need services or products from, the local experiences and places that are the most awesome, the local experts and professionals that can help you … in short: everything local that matters to you, served on a platter.

In most cases, you would think, Google would rock at that. It’s always somewhat surprising to find that sometimes, Google’s results totally suck. Like for instance when you want to find a local movie, on your iPad. Since I’m in the Fraser valley in BC, Canada, how can it think that “mission” refers to a city in Texas? That’s just one example, but there are others.

It turns that knowing search intent is tremendously important. For example, the famous beach query: it is about a local beach, some vacation beach, a name of a business, the essence of beachy-ness, people named beach, or what? Google uses a lot of hints and clues based on what it knows about you and your location and your interests in trying to answer, but it’s a thorny problem.

The huge advantage of an intentionally local search engine or app is that it knows you are looking for something local … because you chose to use a local search service. That’s a major simplifier, and the key reason why purpose-built search is often better today than Google.

The question, of course, is how good Google will get, over time, at using and marrying location data and inferred search intent to provide prescient-seeming results. Sometimes they hit it bang on already.

A better question is how good, given all the location and personal data it has built-in native access to, a technology like Apple’s Siri can get over time.

How Apple's iOS 5 is going to utterly destroy local search

iOS 5, Apple’s newest operating system for iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch is coming in late summer or fall. And I’m predicting it will completely reinvent local and mobile search.

First, some groundwork
Local search is just search for stuff that’s around you.
Mobile search is search on a phone or small device.
And most searches that are mobile, are local.

Done is the new search
Search is an outmoded concept. Most of us just don’t know it, and even for those that do, we can’t really live it yet. I’m betting that’s all going to change in just few months time.

Very simply, search is a process. The goal or object of the search is the product. And since flint knives and sparking rocks, humans reinvent processes continuously to achieve products quicker.

So why search when you can just do?

Laying it all out
Most local/mobile (let’s just say LOMO) searches are action-oriented.

  • Where’s the nearest bar?
  • What’s the best restaurant near here?
  • Is there a movie theatre near here playing XYZ latest & greatest movie?
  • Can I get a cab here?

The search intent, or goal here, is pretty obvious. Shoot me the latest twofer deal at the nearest bar, get me reservations at the restaurant, buy me tickets at the theatre, send a cab to pick me up.

Today, to do that, most people have to:

  1. open a search app (or several)
  2. enter search terms
  3. sort through data
  4. select an option
  5. phone the option
  6. make the reservation/booking/buy

To do this, you might have to open 3-4 apps (a phone is an app), switch context at least that many times, actively personally speak (or wait on hold). Basically, you have to do it yourself.

But wouldn’t it be nice if you had a personal assistant do it all for you?

Enter iOS 5 … your personal assistant from heaven
Apple has a huge problem. That problem is a green little robot dude named Android. And while iPhone is still the best smart mobile platform in the world, Android’s hybrid vigor and essential free-ness to telcos and amazing plasticity is driving huge growth: faster growth than iPhone.

Apple doesn’t need to be bigger than Android, but it absolutely needs to be better.

So Apple is making iOS your new best friend … that does all the annoying little detail work for you. And it’s via an acquisition they made over a year ago, Siri, and a massive data center in the clouds of North Carolina.

Imagine this: pull out your iPhone and say: “I need a flight to Toronto on June 9, arriving in early afternoon, a downtown hotel that doesn’t cost more than $200/night, and tickets to a Blue Jays game that weekend. Oh, and by the way, make me dinner reservations at a good French restaurant for Friday night.”

Rocket science? Star Trek? Prerogative of wealthy execs with personal assistants and fat expense accounts? Rich man’s reality, poor man’s dream?

Think again. This is what Siri does … and this is the future of iOS.

Get ready
Done is the new search. If you’re in the LOMO industry, get ready.

The one potential flaw in Apple’s ointment? Apple doesn’t do social real well … sort of like another tech giant we all know well.

As LOMO becomes SOLOMO (social/local/mobile) this opens doors for others who play nicely together.

Perhaps there’s an opportunity here …

. . .
. . .

Some background resources:

My 3-part series on the future of local search from earlier this year:

TechCrunch on Apple’s new data center and iOS voice plans, and a prior article on iOS 5 and Siri.

And Robert Scoble’s very informative overview and demo of Siri.

Anything else worth linking to here? Add it in the comments …

Bing & Yahoo send less traffic in a month than Google in a day

I know Bing is getting better and better at search. I know they’re even increasing their market share, and not just because they’re also driving Yahoo! search results now.

Frankly, more power to them – competition in any space drives improvements for all of us. So I hope they continue to push Google and both companies get better at finding and organizing information.

But this is really weird. You’d think that if Bing drives about 30% of the searches on the internet, I would see some traffic here at Sparkplug 9 from them. Or from Yahoo. You’d think wrong:

See that big blue chunk of the pie? The 96.91%? Yup, that’s Google’s share of search-engine-driven traffic to this site. It’s not all traffic – I get a ton of traffic from StumbleUpon and other sites. But traffic from search engines is a big chunk of my traffic … and almost all of it is straight from Google.

Perhaps it’s audience – my topics are not interesting to the typical Bing or Yahoo user? That’s possible. But so much less interesting? Kinda hard to believe.

In any case, Bing and Yahoo! send less traffic to my blog in a month than Google in a day.

Wow.

Search on Facebook sucks, and so does ad targeting (on searches)

OK, so let’s just be honest.

In all this talk of Facebook being a huge competitive threat to Google … there’s a big missing piece. And that’s search.

Social is great, big, wonderful, exciting, profitable, and growing wildly. Social commerce is going to be big. Social discovery is already huge.

But when you really need to get something done NOW, or find something in real-time … there’s nothing like searching. And the Facebook experience is nothing like the Google experience.

The Google experience is obvious – we all use it. Need something, type something, find something (usually). The Facebook experience is odd … at least when you’re trying to do an actual informational search in a built-for-social world.

By default, Facebook says it’s searching ALL results, out of these options:

  • All results
  • People
  • Pages
  • Groups
  • Apps
  • Events
  • Web results (from Bing)
  • Posts by friends
  • Posts by everyone

This cannot actually be true. In fact, it’s completely false.

We’re currently listing ads for sales consultants in BC, Ontario, and Alberta. Wanting to see the ads in context, I searched for “sales jobs bc” … which ONLY brings up group and business pages, none of which are relevant.

Filtering by people or places brings up zero results. Filtering by groups brings up IDENTICAL results to All Results. Filting by Apps or Events brings up zilch again. Filtering by web brings up Bing results for the search query, which bears no relationship with the results in All Results or Groups. Posts by Friends brings up nothing (for me), and Posts by Everyone brings up a couple of personal status updates.

And then, on top of it all … the ads Facebook showed me while search barely changed from the standard FB ads I always see: local deals, products, groups or people wanting my attention. Few were relevant, and it took many refreshes to see my own ad for sales jobs in BC.

So …

  1. Searching by social doesn’t work well (for this kind of query, and for a lot of the standard Google types of queries)
  2. Facebook search results are not blended results; they are silo’d results … which, particularly in the case of Bing, is a problem in terms of utility (i.e., there’s less than there should be!)
  3. Search query terms do not carry enough weight in Facebook in terms of prioritizing ads to display
  4. Bing ads that are shown in Facebook are severely limited compared to the standard web Bing ads … Facebook’s Bing results show only 2 ads, while Bing.com shows 5.

The upshot?
Social and search may still meet. In fact, will still meet.

Just not today.

Connecting buyers and sellers: the coming Action Engine (part 3)

The future of search is found.

That may be a truism … sort of like a classic rock song: an oldy but a goody. But let’s unpack it a little.

I started this series on connecting buyers and sellers a couple of months ago. In the first article, I talked about how companies make money. Mostly, they either:

  1. make stuff
  2. provide services
  3. connect buyers and sellers

The third group, the connectors, have the opportunity to make the most money because they operate across business categories. (Unfortunately it’s hard to successfully layer across too many verticals, which is why Google is now verticalizing search … e.g., boutiques.com)

In the second article, I talked about companies that are working to own layers across the entire web which will enable them to know you, and secondly know a virtual representation of the world (including the commercial world, where money and goods and services are exchanged), and thirdly connect the two … thereby earning the right to “make a piece” (of the action) on every transaction.

I said that:

  1. Google owns the intention graph (what do people want)
  2. Facebook owns the social graph (who do people know/like)
  3. Twitter owns the interest graph (what are people interested in)

And today, I’ve said that the future of search is found. But not really. Actually, the future of search is done … a big red Easy button for life.

Web -> Directory -> Search engine -> ???
In the beginning you had the web. It was cool and good and most excellent.

Unfortunately, there came to be a time when there was just simply too much of it, and you needed a map. Enter stage right: directories … human-edited maps of what was, so you could traverse a neat Dewey-Decimalish system and find what you wanted. Ergo, Yahoo!

Quite astonishingly, the web continued to grow at ridiculous rates, and human-edited directories couldn’t keep track. Enter algorithms, and spiders … automated tools for finding, cataloging, and retrieving all the knowledge that’s fit to post. Hence Google.

Google is amazing, Google is marvelous, Google is incredible.

But Google is not enough.

Action engine
‘Cause it’s not just about finding stuff. Who cares, abstractly, about finding stuff? The reason you do the search for dentists in Detroit is not to find a list of dentists in Detroit.

You search for dentists in Detroit to find a dentist in Detroit, yes. But your actual search intent is only a part of your larger goal intent … and your goal intent is to find A dentist in Detroit (a good one, maybe the best one) and then to get an appointment with said dentist in Detroit … and then to get a root canal, remove an impacted wisdom tooth, or whatever your pleasure might be.

So the progression is as follows:

Web -> Directory -> Search Engine -> Action Engine

So the tools of the future are not about finding you lists of stuff. They’re about actuating desires in your life.

Hence the mention of Siri in the second installment of our little journey through the future (and the past) of commerce. It’s about tools to make our lives simpler. Because we all know about the paradox of choice.

More is less
As Barry Schwarz has shown us, more information is less value. Less value as far as happiness and quality of life is concerned, at least.

More results (millions on Google for everything) means more choices. More choices means more stress … both before a purchase/click initiation (which is the right decision?!?) and after the purchase/click completion (was that really the right decision?!? was there a better XYZ to get/do/use?!?).

So a truly empowering technology will transform intention into action … and manage many if not most of the complexities (quality, reputation, efficiency, effectiveness, etc.) for us.

We’re ready for the Action Engine. Who’s going to build it for us?

Google & HotPot: Google just invented PlaceRank

We all know PageRank … the product of the mythical Google algorithm that magically assigns each website and webpage a numerical quality score for certain searches. Now Google’s just added “PlaceRank.”

I’m using quotes because they haven’t announced it that way, but that’s essentially what it is. And it’s not all that new … local search companies have essentially been doing similar things for some time. TripAdvisor results, for instance, are ranked by location and recommendations.

The announcement is here, but you actually have to watch the movie to catch the important parts … so I’ve embedded it just below this post.

What Google’s just done is added an Amazon.com “like-ness” feature to the physical world. With HotPot, instead of telling customers that people who purchased X also purchased Y, Google will be telling you that since you loved Bob’s Burgers, you’ll probably also like Diane’s Doughnuts.

“Tell us about the place you know, to discover the places you’ll love.”

In other words, as you recommend places, you’re building Google’s database of not just what’s good in the ‘hood, so to speak … but also Google’s database of what you like. And not just what you like now, but perhaps even more importantly, what you’re likely to like in the future.

Interesting. And inevitable. And smart.

With this addition, Google has gone a little bit beyond what it’s done to date in local search. So far, it’s pretty much added features that everyone else already has. Now, it’s using the Google weapon of choice – the algorithm – to disrupt local search.

See the video announcement:

See additional commentary:

Google Contextual Search and Microsoft Paperclip

Marissa Mayer, former head of the Google search team and now head of the Google’s mobile/social ambitions, has made no secret of her goals. Lately she’s been hyping “contextual discovery” … or search without search.

The idea is simple and compelling: you happen to be at the office, you often go out for a coffee at 10AM, and your phone mentions a new coffee shop around the corner. Or you’re in a new city halfway across the world, and your phone finds a coffee shop to wake up in … without being asked.

The challenge lies in execution: how to be helpful without being annoying. Basically, how to avoid being Cliff Clavin in a pocket.

Microsoft faced a similar challenge a decade ago. After all, 90% of the features in Word and Excel are used extremely occasionally – 10% of the features meet 90% of our needs. So there’s a discovery problem … if you’re Microsoft and want to justify new versions with increasingly more options and features.

Microsoft’s answer was Office Assistant, building on the foundations of Microsoft Bob. The visual representation of Office Assistant was a paperclip … hence Clippy … hence Microsoft Paperclip. Clippy would “notice” that you were doing something (like writing a letter) and offer advice or assistance. Unfortunately, Clippy was intrusive and annoying, and its assistance was wrong, stupid, or just plain obvious – a user experience disaster.

Here’s the question: how will Google avoid the Clippy fate?

Getting the right information at the right time is wonderful, excellent, and good. But there’s more opportunity to fail than to succeed:

Right fact Wrong fact
Right time Party time! Woohoo! Annoyance & anger
Wrong time Annoyance & anger Annoyance & anger

At first glance, it looks bad, but not too bad. After all, it’s a 25% change of hitting pay dirt right? But actually, it’s much worse than that.

How does Google know what is the right fact … one you’ll be interested in? And not just interested in generally, but interested in now? Can a smart contextual search app trace the route you’ve been following and the speed you’ve been maintaining and make some judgements about whether you’re being hurried and purposeful (and therefore not too interested in random desiderata this morning, but maybe very interested in traffic data) … or leisurely and rambling (and therefore maybe touring, and perhaps interested in historical facts that add color to your experience).

These are not trivial problems. And they’re just the beginning.

How, for example, will Google send the notifications? Will they use the same channel/interface as text messages? Will the user need to set a preference that “now I’m interested in various facts?”

I don’t have the answers … but there are a lot of questions to answer before a truly useful and non-annoying tool can be successfully launched.

TripAdvisor & Facebook: the enemy of my enemy is my friend

Yesterday TripAdvisor launched a new version of their site. The key difference? Enabling Facebook’s instant personalization. This is suspiciously soon after blocking Google from displaying TripAdvisor reviews on google.com … these two events are related.

What does it do
Instant personalization takes your friends to the web with you. All the reviews and activities that your connections on Facebook have engaged in now become part of the website you’re visiting. So for TripAdvisor, I can see that my friends have recently reviewed a hotel, where my friends most popular destinations are, and so on. I can also see cities that my friends have visited – or pinned. It’s very cool, very social, very relevant, very interesting.

How it’s related
Yesterday I posted this on Twitter:

Google vs Facebook is like the cold war: USA vs USSR. I feel like a small African nation in the 70s … which do I choose to align to?

TripAdvisor is making a determination here – very publicly – that Facebook poses less of a challenge to their business model than Google. (Make no mistake … Facebook poses plenty of business challenges to plenty of sites, TripAdvisor included!) I think they’ve made the right call, simply because Google is much closer to centralizing all the features of the purchase decision all in one place, as Bing has recently done in some verticals:

  1. search (find products/services))
  2. comparison (compare products/services)
  3. completion (purchase products/services)

But this is not an easy call. There are two giants here fighting over the future of the web. Just as in the cold-war world … most companies will need to align in some way, shape, or form. Few will remain completely independent.

Google is trying to own the way we organize and find information – all information.

Facebook is trying to own the way we connect to and communicate with people – all people.

Obviously there is increasingly violent convergence between these two imperatives …

Google’s ambitions impinge on vertical sites like TripAdvisor (and many other sites, like that of my company, Canpages) who, guess what, want to also help people find stuff.

Facebook’s ambitions provide an option for sites that Google is squeezing to provide a different, more social, more contextualized, more personal, and potentially more relevant user experience.

The algorithm versus the social graph
Which will win? The cold calculating machines of Google, adding up links and tags and a myriad of other factors and arriving at a calculated relevance score for any given query? The implicit and explicit advice of my social circle?

We live in interesting times!

This is big -> Introducing Google Places

From the official Google blog:

We launched Place Pages last September for more than 50 million places around the world to help people make more informed decisions about where to go, from restaurants and hotels to dry cleaners and bike shops, as well as non-business places like museums, schools and parks. Place Pages connect people to information from the best sources across the web, displaying photos, reviews and essential facts, as well as real-time updates and offers from business owners.

Four million businesses have already claimed their Place Page on Google through the Local Business Center, which enables them to verify and supplement their business information to include hours of operation, photos, videos, coupons, product offerings and more. It also lets them communicate with customers and get insights that help them make smart business decisions.

This is a major challenge to Yelp and other local search companies. Follow the link to get the full list of new features, including new advertising options, QR codes for instant mapping on mobile devices, etc.

via Official Google Blog: Introducing Google Places.

Facebook To Twitter: Back Off, We Own People’s Interests

From TechCrunch:

Whoever knows what your interests are right now and can package them up for advertisers has the chance to make a lot of money. Of course, Google does this right now every time you declare your interests in a search box and it offers up matching ads on the side of results. But Facebook and Twitter are trying to capitalize on the shift from search to sharing. Your interests are expressed by what you follow and react to “like,” “retweet,” etc., not only what you explicitly seek out through search.

via Facebook To Twitter: Back Off, We Own People’s Interests.

Google Stars: is the big G taking aim at social bookmarking sites?

Google’s blog just announced that they are adding a new “star” feature to web search. Essentially, when you see results you like, you star them, and they’ll appear higher in results next time you perform a similar search.

From the Google blog post announcing the new feature:

With stars, you can simply click the star marker on any search result or map and the next time you perform a search, that item will appear in a special list right at the top of your results when relevant.

My first thought on seeing this is: hmmm … watch out del.icio.us, Digg, StumbleUpon, and any other social bookmarking service. For starters, this eliminates the need to save the search result on some external site. For finishers, you can bet your last red Olympic maple leaf mitten that what data Google collects, Google will find some means of collating, utilizing, and monetizing.

You can already star, favorite, and share items in Google Reader. Buzz is bringing social connectedness (sometimes too much!) to the earliest of internet media, email. How long before Google Stars make search more social as well as “more personal?”

My guess? Not long!

. . .
. . .

More discussion on this here, here, here, here, and here.

Searching For Small Businesses, Coming Up Frustrated

Let’s take my local pizza place. There’s a good one in Newport that I always order from, but I can never remember their number. So like many people, I search for it. But recently when I did this, I had a terrible experience. When I clicked through to the site, there was nothing about pizza. Instead, a pop-up window appeared telling me I had a Windows virus. That’s hard to get, given I use a Mac. Someone, somehow, managed to get control of the pizza place’s web site, the same domain that’s listed on all their boxes.

What’s going on here? How does a local pizza place not realize this is happening? Does anyone from the company ever go to their own site? Trying to help, I even called and explained that something really bad was happening with the site. I was told the owner would call back. I didn’t think he would, nor did he.

via Searching For Small Businesses, Coming Up Frustrated.

Google "safesearch" isn't very

I’ve been looking for safe search options lately – both professionally and as a father. Since Google is the leading search engine, it’s one place you need to check.

Google’s SafeSearch feature is supposed to cleanse search results of adult content. As the Google blog recently commented:

When you’re searching on Google, we think you should have the choice to keep adult content out of your search results. That’s why we developed SafeSearch, a feature that lets you filter sexually explicit web sites and images from your search results.

They do admit that no filter is 100% accurate and safe … but I expected better than this:

google-safesearch

Google error?

Interesting page on trying to search Google:

Apparently, Google thinks I’m a bad guy running an automated query. I get the same result from Firefox’s search box as at Google’s own home page.

Odd! Off to Yahoo!

WordPress downloads AWOL, Twitter Search Confirms

[ update: WordPress downloads are working again ]

This is where Twitter comes in handy … proof that it’s not just me.

WordPress downloads are not working right now – when you click on the download link, you simply get an empty page. I first thought it must be a problem on my end, but when I quickly tried Safari as well as Firefox, I was fairly sure there was a real problem.

Then, checking Twitter search confirmed it. Here are the 10 most recent tweets about downloading WordPress:

[cetsEmbedRSS id=’http://search.twitter.com/search.atom?q=wordpress+download’ itemcount=’10’ itemauthor=’1′ itemdate=’1′ itemcontent=’1′]

That’s a live feed … and, thankfully, evidence that I am not finally leaving the twisted shreds of my sanity behind, or suddently growing stupid.

Clipblast: well that sucked

If Scoble says it’s good, it’s usually worth a look. So when Scoble says that ClipBlast is a “killer video search engine”, I thought I’d check it out.

One thing I’ve been looking for lately is video footage of Alexander Ovechkin’s lying-on-the-ice backhander goal from last year. We’re talking ice-hockey, in case you’re wondering.

Here’s what ClipBlast gives me:

clipblast

That contrasts rather poorly with plain old Google:

google video search

The first two results are direct links to the video; the other results are directly related.

Not very “killer” to me.

[tags] scoble, video, search, clipblast, google, hockey, john koetsier [/tags]