What Google Doesn’t Know (and never will)

Inspired by a colleague who proclaimed that “books would be
dead” in five years, I posed a tongue-in-cheek question on my Facebook page,
asking “what will disappear first, books
or the book review section
” of newspapers?

Expecting similarly tongue-in-cheek answers, I instead
received this:

I read a story today
in the New York Times Magazine about a guy who gave up his Ph.D. and work in
intellectual think tanks to become a motorcycle mechanic. This was a fantastic
article that no search engine would ever have found for me. I do not do searches on PhD, think tanks or motorcycle maintenance.
Thank you, New York Times. That is what newspapers and magazines can do. Bring
you the things you didn't know you wanted

Now, you can analyze this
position in many ways, but for me, it boils down to this: There are search
engines that learn from us (Google) and search engines that teach us
(Journalists). We need both, and neither should diminish at the expense of the

The Next Level of Search

 “Search” may well become the most overused and
misunderstood word or phrase in social media since, well, “social media.”

According to a recent white
paper issued by my company, there are four kinds of search: Paid, Optimized,
Reputational and Social. While correct, the paper overlooks one key fact – for
content to be found, people need to know that they want to find it.

Most search strategies and
methodologies today are about creating visibility and order – learning what
people want, taking them to it, and helping them organize it. As a result, search
is moving closer to that Web 1.0 dream of “intelligent agents” roaming the web,
fulfilling your every request.

But what if you don’t know what
you want until you see it? It’s great to have search that understands me, but I
want a search that teaches me. I want serendipity.

Computers learn, people teach —
and this is where journalism and the printed word can still lead.

Journalists as “Search Agents”

Those “intelligent agents” we
all wanted? They are called reporter and editors. They are magazines,
newspapers and, yes, books.

These are the search agents that
advance us and force us to confront what we didn’t think we needed or wanted to
know. It doesn’t matter how well a search engine learns to learn if, in the
end, it teaches us nothing.

So the next time you are in
Barnes & Noble or Borders, look around and remember that you are standing
inside a search engine, a vast repository of knowledge that is waiting for
discovery. Pick up a newspaper (if there are any left in your town) and see
what the “search agents” found for you to read.

Many people today believe that
if the news is important enough, it will find them. Perhaps – but I’d rather
find it for myself. With any luck, I’ll find exactly what I don’t want.

24 thoughts on “What Google Doesn’t Know (and never will)

  1. Always thought provoking, Gary. One thought.
    You say: “for content to be found, people need to know that they want to find it.”
    That’s certainly true today. We don’t know what we don’t know. However, in the future, the social graph and semantic web technologies could change that and help us know what we don’t know – at least in theory.

  2. Totally, Steve — I’m a big fan of the semantic web (or least the promise of it as articulated by Tim Berners-Lee). I hope you are right, because technology will continue to drive search, and search, for better or worse, will continue to drive us.

  3. I thought that’s what social recommendations were for. I use FriendFeed like a Newspaper or Magazine, for instance. Google Wave will do similar things.

  4. It won’t matter that you don’t know what you don’t know as long as you have the ability and the inclination to find out how to remedy it.
    I may not know something specific, may not realize I need/want to know it, but likely one of hundreds of people I have access to on places like Twitter does.
    To the extent that Google Wave offers me multiple access points to such discovery, deterministically or serendipitously, Google is still in play.

  5. I so appreciate this post, Gary.
    Unless my request is a simple one, search hardly ever satisfies my request, let alone elevating truly unique content to me.
    While I agree with Steve about the expansion of search via semantic and social technologies, these are only good for specific things.
    I talk a lot about “curation” and the need for more of it amid the deluge of information. Publishers and writers have a most critical job, still, to be those curators of high quality content, those search agents, and we must determine new business models to sustain such value.
    Thanks again for a great post.

  6. Why journalists as search agents ? Why not everybody ?
    This question have been answered years ago, when StumbleUpon.com appeared. I just press a button and get to an interesting site that matches my interests; it’s an all in one solution made especially for me, I get news, articles, comics, relaxing pictures all matched to my preferences.
    And yes, I got to the article about the PHD mechanic from stumbleupon; now guess how I got to your blog 😉

  7. Google, et.al., is very useful at helping me find information I want/need. The Washington Post helps me learn about a broad range of subjects that I may or may not have been interested in before starting to read the article. Then there’s Stumble Upon (how I found your posting) that has taken me down countless paths of discovery and learning. They all have their place in my world. Now comes Wolfram Alpha… Just another arrow in the quiver, to my way of thinking.

  8. What about online newspapers? I get most of my news from the internet..local newspapers etc. It is nice to sit with a paper and relax, but I hardly have time for that. Newspaper companies won’t die, they will adapt like everything else. The content won’t change but the medium will.

  9. …and then there are the ‘aggregators’ who fall into the middle ground – socialising the searches and interests of community members:
    Consider the podcast “Dogear-Nation”, that broadcasts the tags (web-links) of others :
    Serendipity is also at play. The social tools that we now have to work/play with make ‘chance encounters’ a lot more likely. This helps form new relationships which might otherwise have done unnoticed, allowing individuals and groups to find each other…
    Now, it only requires someone to voice their opinion, perhaps by publishing a single tweet, and a snow-ball might follow – with the message found, re-broadcast (re-tweeted) and relayed across groups and communities.
    To quote a ‘social bridgebuilder’: “my content is my CV”
    – this captures the important concept that in today’s online-World you become know for your participation and actions. This forges your global reputation.

  10. I think the roll of a lot professions are nowdays a little bit denigrate. On the other site there are a lot of false contents in internet. When we want to learn, (or we didn´t know we wanted to learn it till we did it)there are out there professionals and they have still a lot to say a lot to do, anyways, there jobs shouldn´t be in danger.

  11. In today’s generation, many are playing online games and log on to social networking sites. With that, it is very convenient to use the internet when you want to find something. it allows multi-tasking.

  12. I also found this on Stumbleupon and find many new strange, stupid, funny, and informative sites that I would have never come across or searched for without it. And I think tools like this will only get better in the Future. But even with all the net has to offer I still find myself in a bookstore once a week, still get a paper everyday, and still get a mailbox full of magazines every month. I would be truly saddened to see paper media and those who create it and fill it disappear. Both have in the future I hope.

  13. If I can choose between a newspaper, magazine and a search engine on the internet I’d probably choose all because of the fact that each one has their advantages and disadvantages. They can all give me the information that I need in doing SEO campaigns.

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