About five years ago John Battelle started pursuing his hunch that search technology like Google was the most powerful cultural force at work in the modern world. Few believed him. Back then search was pure nerddom. Ugly algorithms and no money. Geekware. The Google IPO in 2005 woke up the last doubters to the fact that search is at the heart of the next new new thing. Battelle has great sense of timing (John was one of the co-founding editors at Wired with me), and he delivers a marvelous introduction about where search came from and what search means in technology, in business, in society and in ourselves. Listen to the technology, Carver Mead preaches; John Battelle has listened harder to search technology than anyone else, and he can tell us some amazing things it is telling us.
Search straddles an increasingly complicated territory of marketing, media, technology, pop culture, international law, and civil liberties. It is fraught not only with staggering technological obstacles — imagine the data created by billions of queries each week — but with nearly paralyzing social responsibility. If Google and companies like it know what the world wants, powerful organizations become quite interested in them, and vulnerable individuals see them as a threat.
In short, the search engine of the future isn’t really a search engine as we know it. It’s more like an intelligent agent — or as Larry Page told me, a reference librarian with complete mastery of the entire corpus of human knowledge.
That key element is your clickstream. Given that nearly every major search engine has a search-history feature, it won’t be long before we begin to se significant changes in how results are tendered to us. By tracking not only what searches you do, but also what sites you visit, the engines of the future will be able to build a real-time profile of your interest from your past Web use. They can then fold that profile into both your search results and the search interface itself, making for what can become, with regular use, an entirely new approach to searching. Call it searching your personal Web — search enhanced by everything you’ve seen, every query you’ve clicked on, and every page you’ve bookmarked or otherwise interacted with.