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July 8, 2009

The Future of Search

I know what you are thinking, and I’m thinking the same thing: The future of search is the most over-publicized topic in search. We have all had our share of panels, articles, conferences and presentations on said topic. It’s enough to make one sick. I’d put this topic, in terms of its nauseating overuse, right up there with Bing and Michael Jackson.

When this topic comes up, it’s always discussed in the context of what search is now. The future of search is so much more than iterations of its current form. Is the future of search really video or Symantec or even personalized search? Hopefully, dear reader, you are following me here, because search has so much power and potential that expands beyond conventional searches at a search engine with varying advances in algorithms, SERPs, targeting, and personalization.

Think about it. Search is ingrained in our lives and has changed how we process and find information. But this shouldn’t stop at finding content online. Macs all now have a fantastic search functionality that sorts files, contacts, calendar items, music, video, pictures, etc and has essentially become the only way I find anything on my computer. I barely even take the time to go through folders anymore. I just search. I use iTunes search to find downloaded movies and shows.

Search has greater potential and can have a starring role in shaping the world of television. I’m an online guy, love online video and new technology, but my TV … how do you describe the role of television in my [our] lives? As Homer Simpson so wisely put it: “Television! Teacher, mother, secret lover.”

This relationship is a really important factor right now because there is a seismic change in how TV content gets served to us. Currently, channels and content are piped into our homes en mass so when we switch between our desired channels there is little tracking. The endgame is to get it so each time you change the channel, the box makes a call for the appropriate content and programming. This makes television addressable and turns the box into something much more like a browser.

I’m over simplifying to make a point: There is huge potential here for search marketers because of our existing relationship, as consumers, with TV combined with inherent scale. As it becomes digital and addressable, search is needed.

Search can even improve the user experience of TV now. On demand is great, but it is brutal to click and scroll through the menu to get to what I want. Why can’t I just search for the movie, show, and/or episode I want? The box needs a more advanced input as the clicker is no keyboard, but that doesn’t mean we can’t improve it. Sometimes I feel like the cable operators subscribe to the philosophy that “if something’s hard to do, then it’s not worth doing,” to use another quote from Homer Simpson. When companies like AT&T, Verizon, DirecTV, Comcast, RCN or any one of the cable/Web providers can aggregate television viewing against online activity it will be a game changer for search engine marketing, because search as a functionality will enable a true anytime-anywhere on demand world. By integrating search into digital on demand in a meaningful way, it will change how consumers access their programming.

From there, it’s all a matter of putting the building blocks in place to align marketing messages with programming in a relevant and valuable fashion. This is not all that different from what propelled Web-based search to what it is today. It’s about the value it provides. Search for addressable television provides a new scale and opportunities for marketers, but also the additional value that consumers need to make this marriage continue to work.

This is the future of search.

Rob Griffin is Director of Search & Analytics at Media Contacts, the digital (that’s the frosted) side of Havas Media. Rob can always be reached on his Crackberry at