[Four months ago I wrote a meandering blog post on another blogging site entitled Personal search – the future of search. The points I made therein are becoming more relevant to what I'm reading about and hoping to get involved in in the future so I'm re-posting here to a wider audience to hopefully get some more feedback and guage reaction to it. This has been prompted by the book Pull by David Siegel that is forming my current holiday reading (recommended to me by a commenter on my previous post Interesting things – Twitter annotations and your phone as a web server) and in particular by Siegel's notion of us all in the future having a personal online data vault.]
My one-time colleague Paul Dawson recently wrote an article called The Future of Search and in it he proposed some interesting ideas. Some choice quotes:
- The growth of Chinese search giant Baidu is an indicator that fully localised and tailored content and offerings have great traction with local audiences
- This trend is already driving an increase in the use of specialist searches … Look at how Farecast is now integrated into Bing for example, or how Flightstats is now integrated into Google.
- Search does not necessarily have to begin with a keyword, but could start instead with a click or a touch. Take a look at Retrievr. Start drawing a picture in the box and see what happens. This is certainly search without the need for typing in keywords
- search technology has advanced greatly in recent years. The recent launch of Microsoft Live Labs’ Pivot has given us a taste of what we can expect to see in the future
This really got me thinking about where search might go in the future and as my mind wandered I realised that as the amount of data that we collect about ourselves increases so too will the need and the desire to search it. The amount of electronic data that exists about each and every person is increasing and in the near future I fully expect that we are going to be able to store personal data such as:
- A history of our location (in fact Google Latitude already offers this facility)
- Recordings of all our phone conversations
- Health information history (weight, blood pressure etc…)
- Energy usage
- Spending history
- What films we watch, what radio stations we listen to
- Voting history
Of course, most of this stuff is already stored somewhere but crucially we don’t have easy access to it. My utilities supplier knows how much electricity I’m using but if I want to know for myself I have to go and dig through my statements (assuming I have kept them). Similarly my doctor probably has ready access to all of my health records, my bank knows exactly what I have spent my money on, my cable supplier knows what I watch on TV and my mobile phone supplier probably knows exactly where I am and where I’ve been for the past few years. Strange then that none of this electronic information is available to me in a way that I can really make use of it; after all, its MY information. Its MY data. I created it.
That is set to change. As technologies mature and customers become more technically cognizant they will demand more access to the data that companies hold about them. The companies themselves will realise the benefit that they derive from giving users what they want and will embrace ways of providing it. As a result the amount of data that we store about ourselves is going to increase exponentially and the desire to search and derive value from that data is going to grow with it; we are about to enter the era of the “personal datastore” and we will want, and need, to search through it in order to make sense of it all.
Its interesting then that today when we think of search we think of search engines and yet in these personal datastores we’re referring to data that search engines can’t touch because WE own it and we (hopefully) choose to keep it private. Someone, I know not who, is going to lead in this space by making it easy for us to search our data and retrieve information that we have either forgotten or maybe didn’t even know in the first place. We will learn new things about ourselves and about our habits; we will share these findings with whomever we choose; we will compare what we discover with others; we will collaborate for mutual benefit and, most of all, we will educate ourselves as to how to live our lives better. Search will be the means to that end, it will enable us to make sense of the wealth of information that we will collect day in day out.
The future of search is personal, why would we be interested in anything else?