Google’s tremendous IPO in 2004 made search all the rage. The aftershocks of the IPO are still being felt today and are apparent by Microsoft’s $2B investment in the web. Search has become such a hot topic that Blogstar John Battelle of Wired fame wrote a book on the topic – aptly entitled “The Search.” Perhaps even more amazing is that I have finally gotten around to reading the book. Although search is undoubtedly a large piece of the emerging web puzzle, however, it is still only a piece.
The market for search is absolutely enormous. Analysts at META Group (now Gartner) estimated that the current market for contextual advertising – the primary monetization mechanism for search – will be $5B in 2006. This number is expected to double to a whopping $10B in 2009.
In its current incarnation, search is pretty simple. In return for entering a couple keywords in a little box you get a shiny list of results related to your query. If you know exactly what you are looking for, search is pretty decent. But what about that fuzzy space between knowing exactly what you want and not knowing jack? What do I mean? Well, do you ever find yourself stuck while exploring for “cool new music”, or all the “flicks your friends are watching?” That is where discovery comes in.
Discovery is the process by which a user effectively visualizes, contextualizes, and organizes massive sets of information and services to explore relevant knowledge. To date, discovery has been a bit ad-hoc. Most information discovery online has been restricted to leveraging Google in tandem with some serious web browsing, bookmarks, emails, etc. Effectively navigating the unstructured web via this approach is messy to say the least. Even more frustrating is the act of organizing relevant facts that you discover along the way.
Recently, however, a number of services have popped up in response to the pressing need for better discovery tools. Some examples of emerging players in the “discovery space” include LivePlasma, Pandora, Last.fm, and of course – the mother of all Web 2.0 sites – del.icio.us. Each of these sites enables users to traverse disconnected information and services via some combination of classification and visualization mechanisms. Pandora, for instance, let’s users traverse a graphical taxonomy to discover new artists and songs. On the other hand, Last.fm leverages tagging and charting mechanisms in conjunction with bottom-up content provided by users to enable a dramatically new music discovery experience. I believe that a combination of the two approaches will ultimately prevail.
Better discovery mechanisms are important not only because they will enable a 10X improvement on user experience, but also because they will have a bottom-line impact on companies. Discovery mechanisms could eventually displace search engines as major gateways to information and – effectively – become intermediaries to purchases. Pandora has already connected discovery with purchases via Amazon’s web service.
This area is extremely nascent and it will take a great deal of work before we see anything that captures mainstream attention. But it will happen – it has to. Information overload is already a severe problem and the data just keeps coming. So keep your eyes peeled boys and girls – discovery is the new search.