Are we living in the end times? The Death of Search, the Birth of Discovery.

Chris Sams, January 24, 2013

Thanks to a brief interview with the evocative Mark Schaefer, a fascinating idea that some of us have pondered has come into the foreground of my thoughts.  “The Death of Search” is a complex issue that requires the evaluation of many factors, from the efficacy of Google’s algorithm updates to the continuing growth of Facebook search.  As the primary method of information discovery among the world’s youth, Facebook has poised itself to be a fierce gladiator in the Google arena.  Mark makes an excellent point regarding the future of Google and Facebook in the interview;  “Facebook search has tripled in the past two years even before the company announced their new search product recently.  To some young people, Google is already obsolete because they never leave Facebook as it is.”  If Google is already obsolete, would that mean that all SEOs focusing on manipulating Google SERPs are only setting themselves up for failure? Wasting their time? Feasibly.

As a twentysomething male who grew up with social media, it is hard for me to even contemplate disagreeing with Mark.  I know the significance of Facebook to today’s youth.  To suggest that their dominance in the personal data collection industry could be disputed is ridiculous.  To quote Mark again, for fear of overusing his words, “Facebook already knows you better than your spouse does.”  I agree with him.  During a recent social media overhaul of my own, I discovered personal information about myself that dates back to mid-2004, shortly after the creation of Facebook.  I felt a pang of nostalgia while I was perusing these old postings, and that was when it dawned on me, “I have been using social media long enough to be nostalgic about it.”  I did not know whether to be embarrassed or happy that I had an accurate record of the past 10 years of my life.

Remember your livejournal? Xanga? Your first blog? These sites, these digital journals and scrapbooks, are an incredibly accurate record of many of our lives.  We can trace ourselves back an entire decade and see how we’ve changed with discomforting accuracy.  The amount of data I have voluntarily offered to the the mighty search engines is significant to say the least.  At the most, I could say that my online history enables search engines to know me better than my own family.  No one can read our private posts, except for the search engines.

With that in mind, to think Facebook does not know what you are looking for before you ask seems preposterous.  Thanks to the recent announcement of “Graph Search” (the worst possible name for the product, in my opinion) we find ourselves moving from the field of organic search to the “new” field of information discovery.  A combination of our likes, comments, shares and location will be compared to the personal data of nearby people.  The results we receive have already been perused and deemed credible  by our friends with comparable interests.

The death of search does not mean the death of SEO, however.  It means the importance of your social media management skills will continue to explode.  It means that unless your SEO team is focused on generating great content and making it visible, your social media will suffer.  It means that if your business does not have the skills necessary to generate relevant, captivating content, you need a content marketing and social media strategy like you need water after a hot day of yard work.  To me, it means that we (content generators) must consistently create easy-to-read, entertaining, sharable content or fade into obscurity.

The future of search is not based on SERPs.  I do not believe that search is dead,  but I will confidently assert that Google will be crippled by Facebook’s innovative plan.  They knew they could never win with a conventional search engine, and decided to create something else entirely.  It may take 5 years, but that is the direction we are moving.  To the kids of today (i.e. your employees of tomorrow), Facebook is the internet.  Facebook is poised to strike back at the most powerful company on earth.  Search engines, meet your match.  It’s based on what you and your online connections have been giving to social media freely for years.  We all worried about what they would do with the data we gave them, and now we know.  They are using it to help us improve the quality of search by changing the nature of search itself.

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