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Google may be king of search, but the company's executives aren't satisfied to reign over the current search market. They want to redefine it. Speaking at Berlin’s IFA home electronics event on Tuesday, Google CEO Eric Schmidt explained the next phase of search that Google is working on: automatic search.
In the near future, Google is hoping to deliver answers to questions you haven't answered yet. Done correctly, that could be great for consumers - and even better for brands.
For Google, it's time for things to get personal. According to Schmidt:
“Ultimately, search is not just the web but literally all of your information — your email, the things you care about, with your permission — this is personal search, for you and only for you."
But more than simply personalizing search, Google wants to be able to anticipate the things you'll want to know. Says Schmidt:
"The next step of search is doing this automatically. When I walk down the street, I want my smartphone to be doing searches constantly - 'Did you know?', 'Did you know?', 'Did you know?', 'Did you know?'
"This notion of autonomous search - to tell me things I didn't know but am probably interested in, is the next great stage - in my view - of search."
This is an interesting shift that's been helped along by the social web. Already, consumers are becoming more willing to share their information and decisions online. And the more information they share, the more easily their search queries and interests can be predicted.
Of course, a future where your phone becomes a pestering questioner could be more of a hell than a help. But that can be easily avoided through clear opt-outs and tailored search algorithms.
Search isn't the only area where predictive technology can come in handy. Services like Hunch and Aardvark are already compiling great stores of data based on consumer preferences and answers to different questions.
Just this week, blog network Wetpaint announced the launch 15 new TV sites dedicated to fan interests. And while the company plans to employ a staff of 10 full-time writers, their job will not be curating news content. The company has technology to figure out what people want to read. If it works, such an algorithm could change the hierarchy of news delivery, putting a premium on the human point of view rather than asking editors to curate and then comment on the news. According to PaidContent:
"The company has developed technology that scans sources like Twitter and entertainment discussion forums to determine where 'audience interest' is."
Already, the company's technology appears to be working. According to Wetpaint, its entertainment properties have generated 500,000-plus “likes” from Facebook. That's more than the total generated by People, TMZ and Entertainment Weekly combined.
For Google, it's easy to see how such a predictive search engine could be monetized. It's also easy to imagine where smart advertising would pair with good predictive search.
Consumers are increasingly comfortable with branded content. According to eMarketer, almost half of US consumers (42%) and even more Millenials (46%) think that advertising helps them learn about new products.
A search engine that can predict users' interest areas can just as easily pair appropriate branded content to the answers it displays.
Two years ago, Marissa Mayer, Google's VP of search product, explained that Google has completed 90% of the search puzzle:
"Search is an unsolved problem. We have a good 90 to 95% of the solution, but there is a lot to go in the remaining 10%."
At the time, she defined the ideal search engine as follows:
"What’s our straightforward definition of the ideal search engine? Your best friend with instant access to all the world’s facts and a photographic memory of everything you’ve seen and know. That search engine could tailor answers to you based on your preferences, your existing knowledge and the best available information; it could ask for clarification and present the answers in whatever setting or media worked best."
That's not far off from Schmidt's words today:
"Computer science is now driving knowledge in human discipline in all sorts of new ways... Imagine a future where you don't forget anything. Why? Because the computer remembers. You don't have to remember anymore. It remembers the things you should have remembered, but you don't remember anymore because you have too much going on in your life. Computers in many ways will become good at things we're not good at."