I’ve been pondering for the last few years what the future of the web will look like.
Economics of the web
One of the first thought that came to mind is that the Internet has to be viable financially. One way to achieve that is to have companies and individuals benefit from it, which makes them in turn willing to spend money on it. Online sales contribute in part to that and so does online advertising, even to (in some cases) a much greater extent.
In terms of advertising, what we’ve been seeing over those last few years is a predominance of Google who now controls about 15% of the display ads market and more than 65% of the search engine ads. It’s easy to overlook, but Google earns over 95% of its revenues from advertising which makes it, in my opinion, and to a certain extent, a media company, simply in the business of selling ad space. Others will argue, and they wouldn’t be wrong, that Google is a software company. The truth probably lies within a mix of a little bit from column A, a little bit from column B and even perhaps a little bit from column C or D. Nonetheless, Google makes about 40 billion a year selling that advertising.
Targeted Online Advertising
Knowing and seeing that, I’ve been asking myself, what will become of online ads? Where is the market truly headed? What will come next?
Let’s keep in mind that we live in a marketing era where an individual gets bombarded with anywhere from 3-20k marketing messages a day (depending on what your definition of a marketing message is i.e. if you include or not clothing labels and all product labels you come into contact with at the grocery store as examples). Part of the appeal of the web many will argue is that it`s much better at targeting ads based on what people are looking for, their geographic location, their spending habits, etc.To a certain extent, that has definitely proven to be true.
Data Mining vs Data Posting
It seems to me that there is much room for improvement when it comes to targeting. I would be happy to get a constant flow of relevant information relating to products or services I actually want or need if it was in reasonable quantities and at the places that I choose to consume/receive that information. And there has been a lot of efforts invested over the years through data mining, consumer profiling, aggregating, curating, etc. Google is actually one of the businesses at the forefront of that effort especially ever since they decided to merge all the information they have on us in one single efficient location.
So about 3 years ago, we decided to work on a web innovation project where the end users could choose to reveal as much information as they felt comfortable with in order to get the right information and suggestions in relations to their everyday needs and wants. The project per se, unfortunately, got sidelined to favor another project but it’s kept me thinking ever since.
Master Intent Search
It boggles my mind that the web is still, in great parts, search engine based. When we need to buy something, learn something or entertain ourselves, we go to a search engine. And we then enter a search request to try and find what we’re looking for. The search engine does its best at trying to understand what we want – due to the great complexity of common everyday language – and we often end up entering multiple other versions of our search until we find something that’s in line with what we really had in mind. It feels somehow inefficient and somewhat archaic to me.
It seems that the market has been sharing this view and has been trying to veer from query based search to master intent search. That topic alone makes for a whole other conversation.
Internet of Things and Personal Assistants
One of the variables that I’ve been mulling over is where and when we actually need the information we look for using search engines. And it seems to be that a lot of that information has to do with things we plan to buy, do or learn. Aside from games and entertainment, a lot of it is the kind of stuff that ultimately has to do with our agenda (activities, classes, trips, dinners, parties, etc.) and planning or tracking our finances (purchases, shopping, investing, etc.).
Now what if that information was available when and where we need it? On the fridge or the cupboard when we look for ingredients to cook or are planning the groceries, on the microwave, on the oven, on the washing machine when we look for care instructions, on the mirror in the bathroom, on the tv or on our phone, on the treadmill, etc. And that is partially what seems to be happening over time. More and more devices are getting plugged to the web as technology evolves and allows it. That trend will call for a standardization of the way that information is communicated between those devices and we will soon live in an era of automation that will makes us feel like we live in a sci-fi episode.
In the meantime, the alternative has been to work towards the personal assistant model like Apple started to do with Siri. As we were pursuing new web innovations on that front as part of a different project 2 years ago, it turned out that Google was working on their own assistant. And it would seem that part of that research culminated with the launch of Google Now in July. As for our project (codename: iWill), it unfortunately never came to fruition as we were unable to secure the financing and corporate will to venture down that road. Turns out we were unto something though since Google Now received various acclaims as Innovation of the Year!
The Seashell Model
The development of Siri, Google Now, Google Glasses and even Google + to a certain degree are all inching toward what I’ve come to coin as the Seashell model. Where we use to surf the web, over waves and waves of information to find what we were looking for, we’ve now come to a point where we want to be able to bring that information to us, on our mobile devices, in our appliances and so on and so forth, on the go, sort of speak in the same fashion that a seashell metaphorically can bring the sea to us wherever we go.
I have been feeling for now over 3 years that this shift could be one of the biggest paradigm shift we will see in the future development of the web. And it might come much sooner than some anticipate. Will it spell the end of the search engine era? Maybe not at first, but I think we might be in for some serious disruption and some exciting catalysis.
What do you think?