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March - 2009 - issue > CEO Spot Light
Web-is-Now-Playing-in-Color!
Venky Harinarayanan
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Search is like water; everyone on the Web needs it. 1.2 billion Internet users perform an average of 53 searches every month according to JP Morgan. The business model is incredible. In 2009, search will produce $33 billion in revenues. Google alone will have $17 billion in revenues and $7 billion in profit. Search is so essential for our Web existence today that it is hard to imagine it being changed in any way. And it hasn’t changed over the last 15 years, while the algorithms and plumbing have become more sophisticated. The user experience has stayed the same. It works so well after all, why change?

For all its successes, search is now beginning to fail us. Search sees the Web in black-and-white (or blue-and-green, if you use google a lot J), while the Web is now playing in color. It is now: consumers with broadband, videos on YouTube, tweets on Twitter, profiles on Facebook, rss feeds, reviews on yelp, and mainstream factual information along with user-created subjective information. For search, the Web is still 1995: Consumers with dial-up modems, a mostly text Web, and largely factual information. In such a world, a simple text-based, top 10 ordering of most relevant Web pages works.

People today are still willing to accept black-and-white search because it is so convenient. But as the gap continues to grow, people will want to have search in color.

What’s search in color? Since users are now increasingly connected to broadband, the same 10 search results can be presented with much more visual appeal. Cooliris and Searchme are startups that enable immersive search. Yahoo! with its new searchmonkey initiative also lets sites edit how their results appear, thus enabling richer results. And why only 10 results? My own startup Kosmix delivers rich results by getting away from the 10 results paradigm. Instead we give users a 360 degree view of any topic by presenting results in their native formats from across the Web; video, audio, blogs, Twitter, Wikipedia,… as they relate to your query. There are other startups innovating both on what results you see and the visual richness. As these trends come together, search will give people the same richness that is seen on the rest of the Web. It will also be used for more than navigation – find me the best page on the Web, and become a basis for exploration and entertainment – and immerse me in a topic.

The opportunity around search is immense if we do not define it narrowly. Search is a way to help a consumer make sense of the information that is on the Web, the best repository of all human knowledge. In the longer term, search will be unrecognizable. Imagine a world where you sit at your computer and have an automated service that helps you plan a vacation or diagnose an illness. You have a fever you say, and the service asks whether you have a runny nose, and you say no, and it asks whether you have a rash? Thus you have an interactive session, not just a single query and 10 results. This sounds like science fiction, but it is closer to reality than you think.
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