Not so long ago Google was cutting edge stuff. Now all the world’s search engines work in much the same way. But some say there’s trouble on the horizon for the traditional search engine model, and the mobile web is making more and more new demands on search engines satisfy users’ needs as quickly and effectively as we’ve been taught to expect.
At risk of being hoist by their own petard, search engines are facing ever-stiffer competition from social media. Facebook, for example, works as a search engine on its own.
Could all this spell the beginning of the end for search providers like Google, even though their market value has recently been tipped at more than 500 billion dollars, more than Facebook and Alibaba rolled into one?
The thing is, the Google offering hasn’t really changed much since it began. It still uses keywords and search queries to identify the most relevant information for the user, and the search results are still not always satisfactory. The question is, how long can the Google search model last, having already kept us happy for a couple of decades?
Not long according to some pundits, who believe the mobile revolution is going to have profound effects on the way search currently works, not least because smartphones’ fiddly little screens don’t get on well with the traditional style of search results.
Since mobile technology isn’t going away any time soon, if ever, something will have to give. Will traditional search hit the deck?
How is Google future-proofing itself?
In 2014 Google bought Quest Visual, an organisation leading the augmented reality translation field. In plain language, it lets smartphones read words using the device’s built-in camera, then translates it into the user’s language. It’s clever, but it’s only the tip of the text recognition, machine translation and real-time translation iceberg.
There’s more. Google Glass, which never really got off the ground commercially, harnessed something called the outside brain, using AI technology to work as a second ‘brain’ to find information, thus improve the quality and efficiency of our daily interactions and help us understand each other better.
It sounds good, but the Google Glass fail means outside brain tech is still mostly academic. Wearable tech, while not developing as fast as some experts predicted, still has a lot to offer, but whatever types eventually come to fruition, they’ll still need to detect user needs accurately to deliver instant answers.
About answer searching engines
Some say the search engines of the future will be answer searching engines. They’re different from question-based search tech because the user doesn’t need to ask a complete question. They don’t even need written text – spoken words should do the trick equally well.
To succeed, developers have to know exactly what users are looking for. And voice recognition apps are leading the way. The stats say people using voice recognition apps are much more likely to speak an entire sentence than pick out a few keywords like we do via a keyboard.
A workable answer searching engine must be able to run analyses and predict the content people want based on both context and semantics. It will also need to analyse common needs, learning to make accurate predictions based on similar users’ search habits, location, the content they look most at and their search history. That’s a matter for Big Data, analysing vast amounts of user data to drive accurate insight.
Natural Language Processing is another big thing, harnessing technologies like voice recognition, word recognition, word analysis and grammar tree building. Picture recognition, on the other hand, remains tricky but might – in the far future – eventually let search engines do stuff like recognise car number plates, even human faces.
The entire search tech thing is in flux right now, and any number of new technologies – some only in the earliest stages – might prove the one that finally changes everything. For now, you’ll have to manage cumbersome traditional search on your fiddly mobile screen for a while longer.