The world has moved on
Stephen King, The Dark Tower Series
Have you ever tried to purchase something online just to learn from your friend that he bought exactly the same thing cheaper? You know how frustrating it may be. How many times did you start your day by visiting BestBuy.com to check whether the price of your new Dell laptop has dropped so you could exercise the price match policy and get a refund of the price difference? If so then you must have felt the pain and the anger of missing the 30 day deadline. Have you stalked your former girlfriend on Facebook to stay up to date on her relationship status ? Then you know how soothing her “single” status can be on your bitter scars left from a messy breakup.
If you ever traded stocks of a pharmaceutical company seeking FDA approval of a new breakthrough cancer treatment drug, you know how important it is to stay on top of any news piece on the subject appearing in the media. Following AT&T and T-Mobile debacle was exciting to follow. Some found the recent epic patent battles between Apple and Samsung more intense than many Hollywood produced blockbusters.
Echoes of the 2008 global financial crisis are still reverberating through the world. Financing a new kitchen or buying a new Lincoln Navigator by dipping into one’s home equity line of credit is no longer a possibility. Frugal is the new and important word thats become popular in the vocabulary of our daily language. Learning to live by our means has become crucial to survival for many households. However, this does not mean we have to resort to a completely ascetic way of living. Having things we absolutely need, whether it is a new car or a budgeted vacation is still possible.
The american economy is consumer based. New jobs and healthy consumption are two components comprising a path to recovery. In order to be a responsible consumer, one must shop around for the best deals out there. Paying the lowest prices ensures competition and conserves the family buck.
Having said that, we arrive to the next big question. How do we find what we need whether it is a product, a service, or general information on a subject of our interest? A naive answer would be using a search engine. Such tools are plentiful on the Internet. The caveat, however, is in the architecture of a general purpose search engine. Contemporary search engines are based on crawling and indexing. Information is acquired continuously and stored in a database called an index.
When a consumer places a query to a search engine, all she or he gets is not what is currently online but rather what is in the Index. In other words the Index is never up to date. The situation is quite similar to the one that an astrophysicist encounters when observing objects in the distant Universe. When we look through a telescope at a galaxy far away we observe it in the distant past, as distant as it takes the light to travel from the object to our eyes.
Our queries to an indexed based search engine are matched against the snapshot of the Internet or its portion that is at least a few days old. One can argue, that this latency is not critical for search. Maybe it is true for some types of information like scientific knowledge that changes over a long period of time or static historical data. For the vast number of queries, however, a few days old information is useless. In a world where prices change rapidly, deals appear and vanish in a blink of an eye, the index-based approach to search becomes more and more irrelevant. It is similar to trying to capture a a Formula 1 image with Agfa PB20. By the time the camera is set up and shutter is released, the subject of the photograph is long gone.
When Steve Jobs passed away, President Obama said:
…by making computers personal and putting the internet in our pockets, he made the information revolution not only accessible, but intuitive and fun.
Many electronic devices can access Internet these days and many things can be done on a bus, while waiting in line or for a green light to change at a traffic stop. Universal Internet access enables consumers to react quickly on changing prices, available deals, and participate in shaping the world through social media. The discordance between consumer’s ability to react fast and the latency of the index-based search only widens as our world is moving toward the technological singularity.
Undoubtedly, the rapidly changing ways we access, generate, and process information shape our requirements to search. The paradigm has shifted and the meaning of search has drastically changed.
As we discover information matching our queries we are not only interested in its current state but rather we need to follow their dynamic. We want to be aware of changing prices and we want to be notified about the latest buzz on Twitter. Instead of following the data, we want the data to follow us. This has not been possible without repeating queries over and over again. Consumers’ never know if the price today is the same or it is just the index that didn’t update.
The classic meaning of search is dead and passive search engines are ancient dinosaurs relentlessly approaching their K-T event. After crossing this boundary a new generation of more agile, index and latency free search engines will rule the world of information. Passive queries are remnants of the past. Following is the only new tool that can adequately quench the world’s thirst for data.