November 11, 2009

Search: Less Useful Due to Massive Info Growth, the Flow?

In a forward-looking presentation at the Defrag Conference this morning, Stowe Boyd pushed attendees to think about how the Web would look by the year 2019, with the aid of seeing the massive amounts of change that has taken place over the previous decade. One of Boyd's most-aggressive comments stated that the world of search is falling apart, as the problems it initially aimed to solve have been eroded thanks to the information explosion and the corresponding ease of access to social connections in a world of real time. Without saying that social networks would render the established search giants, irrelevant, he suggested, as he has on his blog frequently in the last few years, that the "flow" will replace the world of Web pages - and change the game on search entirely.

Boyd essentially argued that social tools are in the process of changing the culture. He said people were incentivized to discover breaking news from social friends through networks like Twitter and Facebook, which makes the new "real-time Web" interesting. He further suggested that how one interprets this news to define "meaning" is what will replace search.

One of the biggest reasons he thinks meaning will replace search is that the initial argument for search engines was trying to find the few documents on the Web that were relevant to your query, and now, practically any search can deliver millions of results.

"Search is starting to fail because scarcity has been replaced by infinity," Boyd said. "We are heading toward a world where all the critical information is available publicly, and breaking news is a few seconds away - at the most. We will switch to instead relying on finding things through our social connections - engines of meaning, and the source of what is important."

Assuming social elements are going to trump algorithms and crawlers that power today's engines, Boyd said he believes that the most important dimension is now time, not space - and that for the most part, this dimension is shared.

"We are not sharing space online, we are sharing time," he said. "Our time is increasingly not our own. A shared thread of time will be the norm, and how we will get work done."

This new shared thread of time, or "flow", as Stowe referred to it, is poised to become the replacement for today's static Web pages, a new element in today's social Web, which he pontificated could be "the most defining moment of our civilization."

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