Sunday, June 10, 2007

Embracing lazy searchers

You need look no further than Google's own numbers to know why they made the radical change to universal search. This table from Hitwise Intelligence: Google Universal Search tells the whole story:

Basically, other than image searching people aren't using any of Google's vertical search capabilities. Take Google News as an example--it's total usage is .94%. You can be sure that people searching Google News is but a small fraction of those users.

It was numbers like these which led me to say last month: The semantic Web is dead?

If you look at user behavior you can see the future, and it is one of compromised and scaled-down functionality rather than more. Less scales. You see this being played-out in the discussion of Google's new universal search. The question is being asked, "Google Universal Search - is Vertical Search Space Finished?" The answer to that question is a resounding yes!

As big as Google is, and as large as its user base, long tail thinking does not extend to the service industry. The long tail works just fine with something like iTunes where providing access to niche content costs next to nothing. Services on the other hand don't scale so well. Services require care, and feeding, and costly human attention. Google may be rolling in cash, but no service business can afford to ignore their core customers.

There's little to be gained by focusing on 1% of your user base unless you have good reason to believe that they are the early adopters. If you think those 1% are ahead of the masses then you are justified in trying to cater to them. This is not what is happening with search -- it's going the other direction -- and that is exactly why you saw Google unveil their universal strategy.

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