Like most people, I’m not particularly interested in “search”. I’m interested in “find”. Particularly when I’m not entirely sure what I’m looking for. For various reasons I was thinking about search today, and remembered something I’d read a while ago.
Many years ago, during the heady days of the last Web boom, Mary Modahl (currently on the board of Yankee Group) wrote a book called Now Or Never: How Companies Must Change Today To Win The Battle For Internet Customers.
It’s a good book. And in it, Modahl recounts the tale of a car salesman in Somewheresville, USA. He had his own dealership, ran a solid and very profitable business. For many years. People came from all over the place to his dealership, because he was such a good salesman.
Now he knew that the number one item his customers wanted was a white pickup truck. But Head Office kept sending him green pickup trucks. And his customers would come looking for white pickups, and leave with green pickups. Somewhere deep inside the bowels of Head Office, someone would notice a spike in the sales of green pickups, and with the customary flash of brilliance associated with such people,Â raise the production targets for green pickups, override all the salesman requests for white pickups, and send them even more green stuff.
But that was then. Today, the customer checks on the web first, makes contact with the car dealers, and then only goes to dealers that have white pickups for sale. So now, through no fault of his own, the salesman is behind the eight ball. He never gets the chance to use his dazzling selling skills, because the customers figured out he hasn’t got what they want. And the reason he doesn’t have what they want? Not because he didn’t know — he did — but because someone else was interested in what was sold to the customer and not what the customer wanted to buy.
[My apologies to Mary Modahl and to anyone else associated with the book if you feel I have misquoted; it’s six or seven years since I read the book, and the quote’s a paraphrase from memory].
I use the story to try and explain where I would like to see search going, particularly in an enterprise context.
I want to see much more of “Did you find what you were looking for?”
I want to understand why some people find what they are looking for faster than others.
I want to see the routes people take to do the finding.
Because somewhere in all that, somewhere among the steps and the categorisation and the differentiation, there is expertise. Some of the expertise is in the use of the search tool. But most of it is a way of looking into a person’s head and distilling the expertise contained, in a manner that it can be shared. And that’s when you have magic in the enterprise and in the classroom.
Search is about finding. And the path of discovery is about learning. And about expertise. The next generation of search will be about intention and how to capture and refine and improve the process.