Why Can't Everything Be Searchable?

By Aaron Goldman, VP Marketing & Strategic Partnerships
Appeared In MediaPosts’s Search Insider

I ASK THIS QUESTION ALL the time after finding just what I was looking for on Google or Yahoo in a matter of seconds. Wouldn't it be nice if you could search your house just as easily? Imagine entering a query for "brown Teva sandals home" or "paprika kitchen cabinet" and getting those same quick results. All it would take is an index and detailed pictures of every room in the house. Install some cameras and open your doors and drawers once a day, so the closets and cabinets can be indexed--or build the Roomba 5.0 to do it. Overlay some personal tags for even quicker searchability, and you're in business.

Tagging pictures to make them search friendly is the crux of Flickr's model (which happens to be owned by Yahoo.) And Amazon's A9 includes street photos in its local search index. So is home search really that far out there?

Media content is a no-brainer. It won't be long before we can search TV, radio, and print (soon to be digital print) just as easily as we can on the Web.

But even better, how about searching your past actions or conversations? "Chinese restaurant 3 weeks ago Chicago" or "Name of boss' daughter." Again, all you'd need is an index and a camera monitoring your actions and voice recognition technology-- I bet the 2008 Treo could do that. At the end of each day, you'd just have to go back and tag that day's activities and conversations-- much like keeping a diary.

Why stop there? How about searching someone else's index? "Wife's purchases Banana Republic last 14 days" or "Jessica Simpson's medicine cabinet."

Now that might be crossing the line. So you'd have to permission your index and mark certain things private while making others open to your social network only. Not much different than the way sites like LiveJournal.com work, or the many social networks that are blossoming. Throw in the ability to exclude certain things from the index altogether (think Google Desktop) and all you criminals, er, privacy advocates out there can rest assured that your every action won't be recorded.

But this begs another set of questions. Who owns the index? You, the individual? The government? Google?

It should be the individual, of course. But then who pays for the technology and hosts the index? As always, some affluent, tech-savvy consumers would be happy to pay out of pocket--but mass adoption requires a different model. And, with the implications of such a technology, human rights activists would justly lobby to ensure that it's available to all socioeconomic classes. So why not have advertisers pay for the right to tap the index and send ultra-targeted messages? "Minority Report," anyone?

So now the question becomes, would people be willing to view ads in exchange for a free platform like this? I would. Especially if it was non-personally identifiable, and the ads were as relevant and unobtrusive as today's search ads. Imagine an ad for $1 off a gallon of milk from Peapod when you realize your roommate finished the bottle yesterday. Or how about a phone number for a local locksmith when you search for, and find, your house keys at your grandparents' house in Florida?

Let's take it one step further. Imagine this technology was not only able to archive your past but help navigate your future. Sure, caching old actions and conversations would be helpful for recall--but what if it could be used to help speed future action? I'm talking about more than a simple auto-fill here. What if your personal index could help you make better decisions? "Will I like the Chop Suey at this restaurant?" or "Is Bob bluffing?"

Are we really that far away? Today, Yahoo and Google can guess what you might be searching for based on past search activity. MSN and Yahoo can layer in historical Web browsing activity to better tailor results. Amazon can tell you what products you might like based on your previous purchases. Shoot, there's tons of A.I. (artificial intelligence) progress being made that we don't read about every day. All it takes is an index, right?

Now what if we really blew this out? What if you could add information to your index without actually having lived it? What if you could directly download new data? "Sudoku strategy" or "Leaky faucet repair" or "Japanese language." Oh wait, that's what today's search engines already do.

So why can't everything be searchable? The methodology is there. The technology's moving faster than ever. Is it only a matter of time? Or I am in the minority reporting my willingness to sell my soul, er, index to marketers in exchange for the ability to remember that Bob taps his chip stack and sighs every time he has a good poker hand?

Either way, count me all in.


Copyright © 2008 Resolution Media, Inc. All rights reserved.