Thursday, March 13, 2008

How has your search changed?

With the recent excitement around Google's ad and search performance, I would like to take a moment and ask everyone how has their search changed? This goes back to my old rant about metrics and how clicks, or searches for that matter, are only an indicator for online activity. Metrics once again need to be taken with context.

I am of course generalizing to some extent and am reflecting probably what would be a small proportion number of users, but never less, I think think these niche groups are quite important. Take for example myself and a number of my peers. We are generally 30+, spend a lot of time online, we read/blog, twitter etc.

The reality is I use google for searching a lot less than I used to. There are a number of reasons for this. For one, the quality of content and a few core publishers is a lot more mature and Google has become much better at linking to these. Take for example Wikipedia. Search for just about anything on Google and chances are you'll get a wikipedia link result or two. In many ways, Wikipedia has become a reliable go-to place for information on general 'stuff'. So depending on the type of information I am looking for, often Wikipedia is my first choice, not to mention many of the external links found on each article.

We also get a lot of content through means other than just search. This includes via RSS, Twitter, email alerts and others. Instead of clicking on some ad or doing a search, I have a much higher likelihood of clicking on a link posted on Twitter (thanks to TinyURL).

As individuals we are also getting much better at organizing information. Between, various online wiki services, online tools such as Highrise and Basecamp, we are much better and cataloging and retrieving our online data. Much of the information passed around an organization is done efficiently through a wiki or chat service like Campfire. Sure someone may have found an interesting link through a traditional search, but the click result may be 5 , 10 or more through one of these other community services and not through search. Facebook is an obvious one so I won't even comment on it.

In the end, I'm not suggesting that search is dead or declining, just that it is changing. Do you recall the days when WebCralwer was the go-to place? I don't have any real metrics to verify what I am saying but I can bet that I'm not far off. I would be delighted if instead of publishing numbers about clicks, searches and views, that the online metrics companies would start providing some of these more interesting metrics. 

For the same reasons, nor can I validate the change in my search and click behavior, after all my peer group is unlikely to install a tracking toolbar, download a screensaver or take a survey for 500 survey points. These are just my general observations. As for Google, while my search activity has declined, inversely my Google use/reach is much much higher through the use of Gmail, RSS Reader, Google Documents, Google Earth etc.

So if you ask me who is doing all the searching, clicking and surveys? Chances it is your mom who just got a new Dell and upgraded from AOL.

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