Microsoft Seeks to Reinvent Search, May Destroy Web
The next generation search engine may not point to Web pages at all.
Microsoft is radically revamping its search engine, Bing. Their approach could destroy the Internet as we know it.
From the announcement, “Introducing the New Bing: Spend Less Time Searching, More Time Doing.”
Today we are taking a big step forward as we begin rolling out what is the most significant update to Bing since we launched three years ago. Over the coming weeks, we will be introducing a brand new way to search designed to help you take action and interact with friends and experts without compromising the core search experience.
First a little background. The search industry was built on keywords, links and labels – static nouns pointing to pages. This approach is great for finding sites but search is about more than simply finding information, it’s also about taking action. Whether it’s booking a flight, reading an article or buying a new pair of shoes, 68% of people tell us they expect to get something done when they type into a search box.
Now it’s possible to do more than find pages with search. You are able to share nearly everything you do, including where you are and who you are, in real-time. From rich multimedia content to real-time streams to social conversations to applications that let you take action in the real world, digital connections are created that present the opportunity to do something. This presents an unprecedented opportunity to rethink how search should work. Suddenly an index of documents that does not embrace these changes is insufficient.
At the same time, research tells us that 90% of people consult with a friend or expert before making a decision -whether it’s something as simple as which train will take you uptown or who is the best dentist in Boulder, other people are often the most trusted source of information. We value input from our friends and opinions from experts but at the same time want comprehensive, relevant and unbiased results. Recent attempts at social search haven’t unlocked the full potential of tapping our social networks. And the reason is pretty simple – social in search hasn’t mirrored how people do things in real life.
The fact is, search hasn’t kept pace. People have become as important as pages and search needs to evolve to embrace these changes. The challenge has been to figure out how to integrate the information you care about with the people who can be most helpful to you in getting stuff done.
So, essentially, they’re going to scrape people’s social network for clues to improve results. No big deal there; Google’s been doing it for quite some time.
What worries me, though, is the explanation from Fast Company’s E.B. Boyd (“Google, Alert: Bing Wants “To Model Every Object On The Planet,” Reinvent Search“).
Bing thinks search should be more about helping you get things done right in the search results themselves. In cases where they can reasonably predict what you’re trying to accomplish, search should provide widgets in the results that let you get the job done. For example, if you enter the keywords “The Avengers Chicago,” it’s reasonable to assume you’re looking for movie show times. Why not post a list of show times right in the results, instead of making you click over to a page of moving listings? (See: Bing to Lap Google in Making Search an App?)
But to provide that level of service, a simple list of pages on the Internet isn’t enough. You need a whole different kind of database on the back end. And that’s what Bing is working on creating.
“Our goal is to model every object on the planet,” Weitz says. So far the company has compiled a database of 300 million objects, from computer mice to buildings. As Bing’s bots crawl the web, they identify pages that have information about those objects. And then they use that information to develop an understanding of what kinds of things people might want to do with that object.
“We’re literally no longer indexing text,” Weitz says. “We’re trying to associate data that exists on the Web in all forms with the physical object that spawned it in the first place.”
The goal is to use the understandings they’re gathering, and the data they’re collecting, to identify and build the kinds of apps for search results that will help you accomplish tasks without making you click over to a second page.
Boyd sees the effects of this for a sidebar industry:
All of which is to say that a massive game change is waiting in the wings in the search business. And it won’t just affect the search competitors as they race to develop the most powerful models. It will also affect the SEO industry that has spent the past decade trying to master page rank. The more the search engines create apps to help people accomplish tasks right in the results, the fewer referrals they’ll be making to outside pages.
But I’d argue that it’s a game-changer for the Internet as we know it.
Now, as a search engine user, this sounds like a great idea: I want information and I want it quickly and efficiently. As a person who makes a living creating content for the Web, however, there’s another way of looking at it: Bing wants to take the content people like me create, repurpose it for their own use, while giving us nothing in return.
To be sure, curation, aggregation, and repurposing have been part and parcel of the Internet for some time. Certainly, I do it here; indeed, I’m doing it in this very post. But the currency of the Web has traditionally been the link. While I’m using some of Bing’s and Fast Company’s content without financial payment to them, I’m also acknowledging and linking it, increasing their search rankings and the likelihood of people reading their content on their pages. Some of you, who would otherwise have been completely unaware those two web pages existed, will even click over to them to get more information.
What’s happening is that search engines are starting to skip that step entirely. Bing is apparently going to take a huge leap forward but we’ve seen it already. Google has for a while been showing business addresses and phone numbers prominently in search results, presumably cutting down on clicks through to those businesses’ web sites. On the other hand, I’m guessing the businesses don’t mind, since those are likely actual customers intending to either call or visit their locations and being assisted in doing so.
Indeed, Boyd’s example is somewhat amusing, since a Google search for “Avengers movie times” will already display the showtimes from your local theaters without your needing to click through. That’s not the case with Bing thus far.
With these sites scraping the data from across the web while keeping the eyeballs on their own sites, what will be the incentive for content creators? The publishing industry has been struggling to monetize the Web for a decade now and mostly failing, since people expect to get content without paying for it, leaving advertising as the only viable business model except for a few niche sites. But it’ll get a whole lot tougher if the content simply appears on Google and Bing directly, without people having to even load the other site’s ads.