BrainTrust Query: Will Web 2.0 Replace Search Engines?

Discussion
Sep 04, 2007

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…

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11 Comments on "BrainTrust Query: Will Web 2.0 Replace Search Engines?"


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Jeff Weitzman
Guest
Jeff Weitzman
14 years 8 months ago

I suppose it is human nature to try to categorize things, but the distinction between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 is a false one created by the media, I suppose, in order to have something to talk about. Online community predates ecommerce and portals. Editorial-driven categorization of resources on the Internet predates automated search. Automated search of social spaces has always been part of the mix. In short, the internet is powerful precisely because it is so fluid and interconnected and resistant to being explained with neat little definitions.

Mary Baum
Guest
Mary Baum
14 years 8 months ago
I don’t see traditional search going away either. I do see traditional search adding the ability to search inside Web 2.0 communities for more focused content, just as Google Blog Search and Technorati do now, although those tools leave a lot to be desired. But just as Mark pointed out about offline social groups, marketers who join online social groups solely to work the user base are not going to get much of a reception unless they also participate in what’s really going on in the group–MySpace excepted, from what I hear, where brands pay good money to have pages. For instance, I spend a lot of time on a site for ad folks, including some people I’m really almost in awe of, whom I could get to know no other way. At this stage of the game I absolutely understand that if I asked them for work the relationship would be instantly OVER. Where the action is for marketers, I think, is in the Web 2.0 shopping space. If I were the pet-toy brand… Read more »
Liz Crawford
Guest
14 years 8 months ago

I think that “search” itself will always be with us. It will morph however with customized avatar assistants, who will have Artificial Intelligence. The interface will have a face–a digital one. But one who will befriend you & one who will have “rights” too (see Korea’s Robot Bill of Rights).

Kai Clarke
Guest
14 years 8 months ago

It is not the advent of Web 2.0 (which opens up the Internet for more URLs as well as greater speed and flexibility), but the increased usage and acceptance of better search tools. The strength of metacrawlers (like dogpile) have forever changed the way we “look” for things on the web. Add to this “smart” search directories (like Ask) and GIGO doesn’t necessarily come true on every search. Since most websites are now web portals (and not just search engines) we have created an entirely different class of Internet buddy to interface with and communicate through. This includes searching for things as well as posting, creating and communicating ideas, concepts and perspectives. Web 2.0 will empower this and allow it to be taken to the next level, but the ability to search data is not a function of Web 2.0, but instead the tools which are surrounding it.

Michael Richmond, Ph.D.
Guest
Michael Richmond, Ph.D.
14 years 8 months ago

We will certainly have information overload going forward and we will want to and need to mine for data/information and knowledge differently in the future. Web 2.0 will provide a means to bring together stronger special interest thinking and with that, more power to make a difference in the retail world. Generic search engines will become more specific in the future to help keep some of the information overload clutter out. The real opportunity will be in providing mining for insights, opportunities and solutions. This could lead to a new “Sutter’s Gold mine” on the internet–and yes, a real money maker!

Mark Lilien
Guest
14 years 8 months ago

People who are truly open about themselves using Web 2.0 tools can get deluged by spam and other unwanted interaction. Even if the spam was preventable, privacy issues would still be show-stoppers for many folks. Compare social networking today to fraternal clubs in the 1950s. If the local Lion’s Club or Odd Fellows or Knights of Columbus was dominated by insurance and real estate brokers trolling for clients, the meetings wouldn’t have great attendance. If the club was truly diverse, with an active mission and attractive social activities, it was more likely to succeed. That required leadership and lot of focused work, especially in screening and recruiting. How many social sites have those ingredients for success?

Joel Warady
Guest
Joel Warady
14 years 8 months ago

I don’t think you can seperate Web 2.0 from search engines. The search engines will continue to get smarter, and more targeted, and will anticipate the user’s interests better and will provide responses accordingly. Yes, social networking will play an important role in determining what information is provided online. But it already seems as if social networking is being overdone, and has reached a saturation point. Which leads one to ask the question, “What is the NEXT big thing?” There is always something new on the technological horizon, and for marketers and brand owners, the best advice is to stay nimble, and be ready to adjust how you reach your customers and prospects.

Santiago Vega
Guest
Santiago Vega
14 years 8 months ago

Generic search engines will evolve in order to preserve as much search-market share as they can. In fact, some of their recent acquisitions point to this, not to mention that they have amassed every consumer’s search query since their existence, so they already know a great deal about you and me (in a less obvious and albeit not fully consented way).

If anything, targeted social networks will eat into some of the search-market share of Google, Yahoo and Microsoft, or rather, share the revenue with those companies that have been smart to buy their way into exclusively providing search and ads on the most popular networks.

Race Cowgill
Guest
Race Cowgill
14 years 8 months ago

I agree, Mark. The point of Web 2.0 as we are discussing it is human connection, not commerce, in my view. For business to try to turn it into a big money-maker could easily backfire. Also, Web 2.0 really describes a web site content model, not a fundamentally different structure for the Internet; not all Internet activities can fit into the Web 2.0 model. It seems that Web 2.0 is really a subset of the Internet and web site design, not a replacement.

David Biernbaum
Guest
14 years 8 months ago

Search tools will continue to grow, adjust and improve with time and technology. With each era there will be imperfections that will be tweaked and enhanced. The ordinary generic search engine isn’t going away all at once because today’s available technology has not yet adequately replaced the need.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
14 years 8 months ago
“Communities based upon the database that provides the foundation for these services?” How about communities of 30-year-old men still living at home who have no social lives? “Service providers know that all the users on the site are interested in the type of service they provide?” Hardly! Many surfers are simply out to make mischief, and one only has to review the thousands of insincere and inaccurate Wikipedia entries to grasp this. Bill Bitner is absolutely on target with his wait-and-see comments. But please allow this humble observation: In the so-called Web 2.0, how will we know what’s real, what’s accurate, and what’s bogus? Web 2.0 is simply a pumped-up version of spam, in which honest searchers are exposed to as much hyperbole and downright inaccuracies as truth. Add to this the overwhelming amount of negative content on blogs and customer response sites today, and you will view the future of the irresponsible, unaccountable, and unattributable “contributions” to respectable websites open to Web 2.0. Any idiot can contribute anything they wish (like my contribution to… Read more »
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