Over the past few years, there has been an underlying shift in the way we use technology in our lives. This could be simply described as moving from user-initiated (search) to auto-serving (suggestions) technologies, and it’s about to change the way we live, communicate, make money, shop, collaborate and more. Instead of actively searching for things, we will be presented with them, as we live our lives.
Facebook (Facebook)’s new “instant personalization” is just the beginning of an era in which we will slowly allow more and more technologies to shape our discovery and decision processes. As they become more integral to our lives, search as an activity will become less relevant. Here is why.
1. The Search Process is Inefficient
Most of the technologies and platforms we use these days require our action. In order to achieve anything, we have to acknowledge the need, make a decision, and then follow through.
Example: You need a new swimsuit for the summer and you decide to find one that best matches your search criteria: Color, style, size, etc. You use Google (Google), ShopStyle, TheFind, or any other smart shopping engine. This simple task requires a bit of thought and effort on your part.
What if you could skip this process and let technology offer you the perfect swimsuit once the summer season arrives, without asking you to take any action?
2. Mobile GPS Eliminates the Need for Location-Based Search
Let’s look at location searches and the hottest startup of the moment –- Foursquare (Foursquare). In order to enjoy the rewards and badges of this location-based game, users are required to manually “check-in” at various places via GPS-enabled phones. All it requires is our confirmation, though this is likely to become automated in the future as geo-location technology becomes more precise.
Once Foursquare overcomes the user-initiation block, it will be able to offer you places on the go, according to your preferences. Are you on the corner of 44th street and 6th avenue? There is a nice coffee place on the block, and according to your last 10 check-ins, you must love coffee.
We already see some mobile applications changing these behavior patterns. Dating is one of the first verticals killing the search function. By using GPS technology, mobile startups such as Urban Signals connect strangers on the go, as they live their lives and walk on the streets of their neighborhoods. Right now, they are powered by instant human connection –- when you see someone you like, you send a signal and connect. But what if the device was actually signaling you when you walk by someone who could be a good match?
3. Social Matching Could Create Valuable Connections
Beyond dating, the same principles could be applied to the ways we do business, shop, and consume information. Instead of initiating the actions, we could simply receive opportunities based on our preferences and lifestyle.
Imagine a mobile app created for networking events which allows you to skip useless intros and irrelevant pitches, and instead connect directly with people who match your business goals (a natural evolution for LinkedIn (LinkedIn)). Or consider a web service that automatically matches people on the same mission, which would be great for social organizations and non-profits.
For example, one of your friends is very passionate about sustainability and another is an organic clothes designer. Professionally, they are only separated by few degrees, and their social data shows that they live in the same neighborhood. Combined, they could do a world of social good, but unless you think about introducing them, they might never connect.
By allowing technologies to make auto-matches from the group pool of social networks, we could create a more networked and efficient society by connecting like-minded people.
4. Content Recommendations to Replace Search
The same approach could be used for consuming content. Instead of scanning newspapers, magazines, RSS feeds, blogs and Twitter (Twitter) streams, only to find a fraction of the content matching our interests, we could have the best matches delivered to us, as it’s created, and filtered by our relevant social data.
It’s already happening on social platforms like Facebook and Twitter, where we get content recommendations from our friends and followers. Last week, Facebook’s Open Graph launch took the next step and opened a two-way street between the network itself and the larger web. In addition to providing an “instant personalization,” it is turning all of us to “instant curators.”
Assuming you’ve built a network of people with similar interests, you may never have to search for content again. You can simply rely on your network to deliver the top news to you, or point you in the right direction when visiting your favorite destinations.
Of course, this system still requires someone to discover and share content in the first place, and search is one of the ways to do so. But it’s only a matter of time until new technologies fill in the gaps left by your network, and ensure you receive every piece of relevant content from across the web, prioritized accordingly.
5. Suggestions Will Be the Core of Our Shopping Experience
Shopping is the best space to adopt suggestion technologies. If you’ve ever tried searching for an item of clothing or a gadget, you probably got lost in thousands of product choices, only a fraction of which would suit your needs.
What if new gadgets were selectively offered to you, based on your characteristics as they come out to the market? What if new clothes came to your inbox every season according to your taste and budget?
Even today, universal social platforms like Facebook are able to provide enough personal data for a variety of technologies to automate these common processes, essentially replacing our need to search.
Will Google Catch Up?
It’s not a coincidence that Facebook has begun to surpass Google as the most visited site in the U.S. The shift will continue as we change our behavior from searching for things to discovering things through our social networks and geo-location services.
Although Google does try to make its search more social by adding results from the major networks, much of their focus still rests in “people searching for things.” If this behavior changes, it might put a big question mark on the future of this empire.
At this point, Google still has a chance to adapt to the new decade. After all, they do index nearly all online content, products, businesses and even locations via Google Maps (Google Maps). The question is how they use the data they collect. The faster they understand this shift in human behavior, the more chance they have to stay in the game when search becomes a far less important task.