October 23rd, 2009
The Context of the Search: Public and Private Identities
The widget is beginning to supercede the hyperlink as a proper response to a search query. You can start to see this with the deals Google and Bing are making, the search engine results page (SERP) can no longer satisfy as just a prioritized page of hyperlinks.
Search returns public social gestures in real time. But clicking a link isn’t necessarily what’s needed in this context, perhaps it’s a ‘like’ or a ‘retweet.’ Maybe it’s a reply. The SERP interface will extend the requisite affordances to enable these gestures.
Search returns videos that are playable inline. Perhaps they can be directed to a playlist which can be shared. Perhaps it finds the news clips and streams that relate to the healthcare debate or the Web conference that’s going on in real time or the public video streams from the protest march. Search returns that quote from a movie and cues the video up to exactly the right spot
Search returns music (Google’s deal with Lala.com) with an option to buy a web-only version or a file download. And, of course, you can listen to it one time for free just to get a sense of whether you really like it or not. Or perhaps it reminds you that you own a copy already and you can play it from your cloud-based record collection. Perhaps you want to add it to a playlist, or see what kind of genius list it generates. Perhaps you want to see who in your directed social graph also has this song in her playlist.
Search finds the debate around the news of the day. The journalism is pulled apart and acted out by the participants in the discussion. The discovery is not separated from the debate.
Search is becoming two-way, social and contextual. It’s not just a connector to a page— it is the connection itself, and it’s exposed through the response to the query. Search is no longer search. It’s a browsing activity, zig-zagging across the Network, it’s berry picking, it’s a bullshit session over a cup coffee, it’s researching and working through a problem, it’s finding out if anything worthwhile is going on right now. It’s not about the efficiency of the link, but the pleasure of the journey and the company we keep. It’s asking a question anonymously, but it’s also shifting modes and filtering the response based on personal identity and social graph. It’s asking in public, but it’s also asking in private.
We sometimes search for context among the things we index. But it’s not things that are semantic, it’s the people. As Wittgenstein notes, the meaning of a word is in its use. And the use of a word is in its social exchange, search begins to search for the real-time moment of exchange– and in that instant search is transformed.