The Future of Search

Jennifer Van Grove’s article “How Tablets are Changing the Way We Search” has got me thinking a lot about the near future of search.

She says a lot of smart things. In general, she says that since tablets move around with us through our daily lives, they represent a real opportunity to deliver search experiences that can do more than merely match up written keywords. Think of a device that can search not only search words, but also match up where you are, what you are doing, and what’s currently happening near you to deliver the best contextual real-time search results.

This isn’t science fiction. My iPhone can already conduct an accurate Google search with spoken, rather than typed, keywords. The Shazaam app can listen to a 15 second stretch of music I hear playing in the background at a restaurant, accurately identify the song and provide an easy purchase opportunity.

WordLens can take a picture of text and automatically translate that text into another language. Google Translator can do the same trick with voice.

Google Image Search allows the traditional search for pictures based on keywords but can also conduct a search based on an uploaded picture or camera shot.

My WorldCat Mobile app is great because it doesn’t just tell me that a book exists. WorldCat tells me which libraries currently near me (based on real-time GPS) offer the book. This is a real time-saver when deciding whether to stop by the college library or the public library on the way home.

My favorite news reader app is Zite. I love it because it combines my preferred news sources based on Facebook, Twitter and Google Reader and takes the next step to anticipate items I will likely find interesting. Zite knows me very well.

These are just a few obvious examples to illustrate a point: search results are better when there is a geographical, social context that allows for visual and audio input to create a fuller picture of what I am looking for.

I am one of those people who see my iPhone and iPad as a first gen Star Trek tricorder. Actually, better than first gen. This isn’t Kirk’s tricorder. This is Picard’s tricorder. The interactive, touchscreen slate that knows what I want when I ask and delivers it right on time. That’s way cooler than anything else they had going on the Enterprise. I’m grateful that is has arrived in my lifetime.

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