The Path to Ambient Findability

By Aaron Goldman, VP of Marketing & Strategic Partnerships
Appeared in: The Future of Search

The best way to prepare for the future is to look at — and learn from — the past. Danny demonstrated that as he took us through Search 1.0 and 2.0 as a framework by which we can think about Search 3.0 today and 4.0 tomorrow.

I’m going to take a different approach — let’s call it the next best way to prepare for the future. To get a sense for what search might look like in five to ten years, I suggest we probe far beyond that and work our way backwards. Join me on the path to ambient findability.

A phrase coined by Peter Morville and the topic of his fascinating book, ambient findability refers to the all-encompassing ability to be locatable or navigable.

I explored this topic in depth across three columns, ruminating on what it means for personalization, the potential downside, and select quotes from the book in the context of search marketing.

The Cliff Notes version is that ambient findability speaks to a world in which everything and everyone can be indexed and found anywhere at any time.

Work With Me Here

Let’s put aside all the challenges associated with reaching the point of pervasive computing that would activate ambient findability. Morville devotes the first couple chapters of his book to addressing these hurdles and, while they are not small leaps, they are certainly not insurmountable.

In fact, there are tangible examples of corporations harnessing the power of ambient findability today. One great example is the MyLifeBits project being conducted by Microsoft. I’ve written three columns about MyLifeBits focusing on its impact on personalization, ability to succeed, and application to search marketing.

In a nutshell, MyLifeBits is a memex (memory extender) created by digitizing and indexing an individual’s entire life — online/phone chats, media consumed, pictures of people/objects encountered, etc. – and, of course, making it all searchable.

Per Gordon Bell and Jim Gemmell, the brains behind MyLifeBits, the ultimate goal of the project is “complementary computing, where the computer understands human limitations and fills in the gaps.” In other words, once they’ve built a massive index of everything in a person’s life, they can create “a machine that can act like a personal assistant, anticipating its user’s needs.”

Back to The Here and Now

It’s anyone’s guess how long it will take until Morville’s dream of ambient findability is realized but I think we can all agree it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.

And it also seems assured that search will play a key role in helping us navigate a world in which everything and everyone can be found. The only question is whether search advertising, or more appropriately, query marketing, will be a sustainable revenue model in a world of ambient findability.

So what can those of us with a stake in search marketing do today to prepare for that eventuality?

I think the first step is to embrace Mr. Battelle’s words from his inaugural post on this site. We have to truly consider “how flexible and powerful search can become when it is unhinged from the standard approach to which we’ve all become accustomed.” And, while you’re at it, go fly a kite.


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