Three eras of searching the world wide web

A little late to the game and perhaps obvious, I know, but I was just musing and it occurred to me that there are perhaps three distinct eras for the way people using the world wide web have found information:

The Yahoo era: A cadre of net geeks personally indexed and recommended stuff for everyone to look at when you told them what you were looking for.
The Google era: A massive cluster of robots scoured the internet and figured out what web sites looked like they were pretty good and matched them up with what you told them you were looking for.
The Facebook era: Your friends find something cool/funny/useful/outrageous and post something about it, leading you to do the same.

Ok, so yes, that’s pretty obvious to anyone who’s been on the web and paying attention from 1994-onward or earlier. Predicting what the next era will be is of course the billion dollar question.

The obvious thing that comes to mind is that things will just remain this way forever, and of course this is false and just a failure of imagination.

The next most obvious guess at what the future will bring is to combine the stuff that happened in the previous eras in some novel way. The Facebook era is kindof like that — instead of a hand-picked WWW index managed by the geeks at Yahoo!, we have a feed (rather than an index) of links which our our social contacts (rather than a bunch of strangers working for Yahoo!) provide for us to check out.

So, perhaps just doing a mashup of the Facebook and Google eras would point to what the next breakthrough in search might look like. Let’s try that:

Mash1: Our social contacts create a cluster of robots who index the WWW and come up with a custom-tailored PageRank algorithm tied to what turns our crank.

Hmm, intriguing, but unlikely. Most of our social contacts probably don’t know enough about technology to do that.

Mash 2: The behavior of our social contacts is monitored by robots who analyze the information that can be datamined out of all that activity, and use it to beat our friends to the punch. Especially for marketing purposes.

Much more likely! What we’re doing on social networking sites is already closely watched and analyzed by hordes of robots. All it would take is for someone to come up with the idea and implement it.

And it’s a good enough idea that I bet there are already people working on this right now. In fact, there definitely are if you consider social media advertisers. But I’m also thinking about more general purpose informational search.

In fact, after I congratulate myself on what a clever prognosticator I am and hit Publish, I bet within 15 minutes someone will post a comment with a link to a company that’s doing exactly this.

I mean, of course I could save myself the embarrassment and google around and see if I could find that myself, but it’s so last-era.

I want to see whether the Facebook era will bring the information to me with less effort expended. It may or may not be faster than the google era, but faster isn’t always the most important thing — sometimes there’s a tremendous amount of value in getting information from a friend that could easily have been looked up through a simple query to google.

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