BrainTrust Query: Will Web 2.0 Replace Search Engines?
By Bill Bittner, President, BWH Consulting
I am sure we have all done it – entered a term in a search engine and gotten results about everything but the topic we’re interested in researching. Some of the search engines have tried to address this by offering subheadings that allow you to target specific topic areas. This helps, but could Web 2.0 make search engines themselves obsolete?
First, it is important to describe what I mean when I say Web 2.0. There are many definitions for the term, but in this case I am referring to the ability for users to load their own data onto a website. Traditionally, Web 1.0 was all about inquiry and shopping sites. Pre-designed by the creators, the sites relegated users to receiving the data and services that the site offered. The only user input might be to sign up for e-mails or make credit card payments.
With the advent of 2.0, many sites added social networking capabilities to allow users to form message boards and create their own widgets on personal pages. Amazon opened up its whole database to users who wanted to access the site as part of their service offering, allowing them to post items and use Amazon payment services to handle business transactions. Facebook has taken the social networking concept to the next stage, offering service providers access to the user information in their database and giving the users a way to select the services that they wish to use.
The result of all this openness has been the formation of communities based upon the database that provides the foundation for these services. Since the database is the foundation, users can find other users and subject areas in which they have an interest. Kind of like knowing the neighborhood you are visiting, users can visit the communities on a site that meet their needs.
Under this scenario, the generic search engine becomes obsolete. The user community knows that by joining a particular site dedicated to their needs, they will get specific answers. Service providers know that all the users on the site are interested in the type of service they provide. A community for category managers, for example, can provide information on new items, introduce promotion programs, and offer merchandising suggestions. Service providers will use the site as a forum to reach their target audience.
Discussion Questions: Do you see generic search engines being replaced by targeted communities? How should retailers and consumer brands be preparing for the way consumers will eventually be searching the web?
[Author’s commentary] There will always be a need for generic search, but I believe its economic value will decline with Web 2.0. While Web 1.0 (generic search) offered the ability to advertise your new pet toy to a huge audience, almost akin to a Superbowl mega-ad, how many web surfers are pet lovers with a predisposition to that product? Web 2.0 gives you the opportunity to address all the registered dog owners on Facebook, or all the category managers who are interested in pet toys on categorymanager.com. Which approach makes more sense?
Obviously this will take time to evolve and the future is never exactly what we expect, but I can see the day when Google becomes the “dictionary of the world.” It is the starting point for queries, but the revenue generators become sites that support communities of targeted users. Just like the dictionary, you reference the generic search, but the real activity occurs in the targeted community.
Don’t short your Google stock yet…