I have some advice for Google…and other search engines.
My need for search has changed over the last few years. When Google first appeared, their search results made me an instant convert. By utilizing network approaches to determining the value of information (PageRank is essentially a valuation model drawing on the activities of a network), relevant resources were a click away.
The search industry has moved through broad stages – from hierarchical (remember the Yahoo search page with 1500 links by category??) to network (Google and most new search engines) to emerging visualization. But lately, I’m finding that I’m no longer as enthralled with Google (and web search in general) as I once was. My concern is no longer of access to information. My concern today is centered on relevance. Or more specifically, on having search engines function as a second brain.
I spend my time in two primary search activities: a) finding information I need, b) re-finding information I encountered previously, but have no clue where. So I have a mashup of tools that symbolize the transition to digital state we are still in.
I use Bloglines/Google Reader to follow information/conversations. These tools essentially me to form my personal learning network – as expressed in my initial paper on connectivism and explored more deeply during our recent online connectivism conference.
The information I wish to keep and share is posted to my elearnspace blog, furled, or posted to del.icio.us
Information I wish to use as a basis for collaboration is posted in a wiki
So my main information use habits include:
- Reaping information from my network
- making decisions about what I’ll need later (and how I might search for it or remember what I did with it)
- Capturing key information for:
- Making connections between information sources
- Determining meaning (patterns) from the information I encounter
I still use Google for search…but not as much as I once did. Prior to forming my sloppy suite information management tools (and harnessing the information provided by trusted sources in my RSS reader), I used Google to search specific items – treating knowledge as an object to be acquired. But, as I presented in my book Knowing Knowledge – knowledge today is not an object. Knowledge is a process. What I need today is a search tool that captures and searches my activities in interacting with knowledge as a process. I want a search mechanism that knows:
- the books on my physical book shelf (even though I may need to enter this information into LibraryThing),
- the articles I’ve read in journals,
- what I’ve blogged,
- whose blogs I read,
- what I’ve archived and shared (in Furl, del.icio.us, flickr),
- what I’ve moved to a collaborative environment.
- what type of relevant information I may need based on what I’ve done in the past.
…and it should
- Connect related areas of interest or activity
- Display basic patterns emerging from my information habits
My current information/knowledge approach is pieced together – not integrated. Really, how hard would it be for Google to allow me to define which areas I would like to search (my bloglines, my furl, my del.cio.us, my physical books, my wikis, my social networks (at this point, openID becomes attractive). And visualizes information for me, showing connections and related areas/topics of interest (kartOOand Quintura are starting with this) – and to do so based on my history, my self-declared profile, and my searching activities or habits. A search engine needs to become a part of who I am and what I do (what I’ve written, ideas I’ve had). Search needs to become useful (again).
Search needs to be intertwined with my own knowledge habits and personal learning network – helping me to re-find the knowledge I need. Search shouldn’t be an explicit activity – it should be a background activity, operating largely without my conscious awareness. Finding (the current premise of Google and other search engines) is “knowledge as product”. Re-finding (the required focus of future search tools) is “knowledge as process”.
In many ways, search today is reflective of the environment in which it originated – after all, our new approaches serve to solve the problems of our current world (simple image of the process)…and as our new tools create new affordances, we end up in a cycle of innovation where we need to break from our mindset that existed at the time of the first innovation. Google needs to shift from serving the needs I had in a more physically-based world (with fairly static knowledge) to the digital world awash with rapid change and fluctuations – with limitless connections and information that is overwhelming in quantity.
This is different from personal search (i.e. searching your own networks or sources Rollyo looked like a neat concept, but hasn’t really taken off). I’m suggesting an integrated search tool reflective of what I do on a daily basis.
Obviously, there are privacy concerns – i.e. at what point does Google know too much about me? But I’m quite certain the big transition required in search is one of breaking away from the product-based views of information to one that embraces the process-based views that reflect what we are starting to do in our digital lifestyles. Search should become less about search and more about “using and doing”.