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Google Voice: Indexing Real Life Into Search?

March 17, 2009

By us & Gunther Sonnenfeld

Google’s move to become the gateway for “shaping the share of voice” (Grand Central) brings about some possibilities that will not only challenge the conventions established around search, but introduce some progressive new forms of thinking. For one thing, most content isn’t found through typical search indexing; it has evolved into “nanosearch” or “microsearch” functions…just look at how utilities like Twitter are dominating and populating fields of content. For another, we are now about to contend with the first real iterations of the semantic web (artificial intelligence). Yet, ironically (and somewhat counterintuitive to this), what we must really now consider is that our lives as a whole – real lives – are now being indexed into search, and in more ways we can imagine.

Google made a fortune with its now famous: “We organize the world information”. Facebook and to some extent, LinkedIn, as well as other social networks, are about to do the same with their “we organize the world of people”. If there isn’t proof in the pudding, at least this is an interesting data point on how things are shifting.

What does that mean for the Google pagerank algorithmFor nearly a decade, it’s been the invisible cog that the Google machine uses to decide the most relevant information for a search. But the definition of  ‘most relevant’  is changing. It’s becoming less purely content driven as people use Facebook, Twitter and more to exchange links, videos, music and so on with their connections. By tweeting a link or adding it to their Facebook page, they tell their connections “here’s something I found relevant/liked”. New search solutions coming with those platforms pose a threat to Google monopoly in the world of relevance. As Nick Arnett said , twitter is a people-driven, massively parallel headline organizer.

As a very anecdotal data-point, when eCairn published the top 150 social media marketing blogs, most of the traffic came from Twitter, Delicious, Friendfeed and Stumbleupon,  less from other blogs’ inbound links or even Google search. Here’s the detail on the story as summarized by Dominique Lahaix:

1. One top blogger (probably monitoring live its name/url) saw our list and twitted it

2. Twitter started to bring a lot of traffic, initially tweets from individuals then twitter search

3. Delicious came second, as the news spread, more and more people bookmarked the list in delicious

4. Almost at the same time we got Stumbleupon traffic

5. Early Monday, people started making “derivative” from our list (OPML’s…) and it made the front page of ReadWriteWeb

6. Then it made the front page of Delicious and of WordPress (top post – our blog is hosted by WordPress)

7. We got almost no traffic from search engines (max 100) although we’re on the page one (#6) for a google search on “social media marketing blogs”,  #2 for “top social media blogs”,  #8 for social media blogs

So here’s where we’re going with this: if Google doesn’t want to see itself outpaced in the race to organize our internet life, perhaps they’ve purposely chosen not to invest in this part of our social infrastructure. The company, which has spawned and supported a number of rising verticals through highly effective open source technology, seems to be looking at a much bigger prize: everyday experiences, and those that are necessarily designated to, or definable by, offline or online functions. Hence we circle back to Grand Central, it’s new voice recognition platform that will likely upend Skype’s 400M captive user base and change the telecom game…among other things.

So what are we really looking at here? To start, three factors come to mind:

  1. Pieces of our “phone” conversations – at least those that don’t violate IP or privacy statutes – will flood search queries.
  2. These pieces will overtake content indexes (text, video, podcasts, etc) by the sheer volume of conversations.
  3. Behavioral analytics will take shape in the form of “active capture” versus “active reach”.

To clarify, the nature of these conversations will lend themselves to a delivery mechanism in which topical elements or points of commonality previously established through “normal” search parameters will now be verified through real conversation. Further, there are a slew of revenue opportunities linked to micro-targeted environments, and it’s certainly not inconceivable that in this very same way, you will be able to connect people with specific ad content and/or messaging precisely at the right time within a physical space.

Think about it: you and a friend or colleague (or someone you’ve never met) are having a chat about cheese at a conference (let’s choose something more banal for effect, shall we?) , and all this chat is being broadcast and monitored through the Grand Central platform. When sub-topics like “curdling” or “melting” are mentioned, these exchanges are indexed into search. When queries are run – both on the consumer side and ad network side, for example – you are then strategically and incrementally fed specific micro-messages on kiosks or digital banners within the environment. You might even opt in to short-code for that the curlding instrument you saw on one banner, and through your phone, you’ve made a purchase in a matter of seconds.

What this presents to us is the notion that everyday exchanges will become these fairly stealth engagement points that feed the larger search machine, and, provide a reciprocal framework for accessing the things we want, when we want them. And this is only the beginning…

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