In an online world marked by Facebook’s seemingly unstoppable growth, rumors about a competing service built by Google have spread for the better part of last year. It has been talked about in numerous blog posts, on Google Buzz and it even has its own topic at Quora as well as sparked debates about social networking in general; the big tech blogs have published every bit of rumor about possible features or launch date. I have my own ideas about what Google Me should offer, which I will outline in a series of three articles; a single one would likely grow too long for comfort. So let’s begin with:
Search, search, search!
Web search was Google’s main area of expertise from the start and helped propel the company to the giant status on the Internet it enjoys today. Some even argue it’s still the only thing Google is clearly successful at. But with the rise of social networks and real-time updates, a new, more personal facet of the web developed that eluded the established model of indexing, diminishing the power of normal search. Right now, I can easily locate conversations I had with my friends years ago or even Google chats, which are stored in Gmail. But if you try that on any social network, you will come up frustrated and empty handed. So large chunks of your online – and personal – history are drifting away as I write this, never to be recovered again.
The way I see it, there are three main areas of information where we would need better search solutions:
Your personal history, from emails to events, contacts, notes, photos and videos, blogs you read, links you share, phone calls, chats and SMS. Right now, all this information is fragmented and scattered across dozens of services; even if you use many of Google services with built in search, they don’t cover all this spectrum, not to mention they aren’t connected to each-other: if you don’t remember exactly where you stored a piece of information, you will have to search through each of the possible location one after another...
Information from friends and connections: this area is also very fragmented, with Facebook and Twitter as the main sources, but also Google Reader, Buzz and many other social networks. Unfortunately, none of these services provides quality search results; focused more on the ‘here-and-now’, Twitter search only reaches a couple of days in the past; Facebook doesn’t fare much better. And Google Buzz doesn’t provide a way to search exclusively through posts from people you follow – neither does Twitter for that matter. The ‘traditional’ search engines are already working on ‘social search’, but neither includes more than a couple of channels of social content. Rather unexpectedly, LinkedIn is making some interesting progress in this particular area of search with Signal, even if focused on the professional connections rather than on the more general social graph.
The public information on the web.
[…] And we’ve deployed social search. I think we’re just at the tip of the iceberg. We’ve only touched 1% of what we can. You can expect more. Sergey Brin
The point I am trying to make here is that we need unified search for all our data sources, a single search box for our personal web. Something like the almost defunct Google Desktop, but for the data we and our connections generate online. Google Cloud Desktop, if you like. Just imagine for example you want to remember where you heard a quote: did somebody mention it in an email or post it in a status update? And to discover it was actually featured in one of the books you recently read online!
The goal is to erase the boundaries between services, so it doesn’t matter anymore if we communicate or share via phone, chat, email, Facebook or Twitter. The social message over the social medium. Maybe it sounds like the promise of the new Facebook messaging system, but this solution should leave Facebook’s walls behind. There are some initiatives in this direction already, like the integration of voice mail and messages in Gmail or the lab that enables searching through documents and events from inside Gmail, but we’re still pretty far from a complete solution.
Google clearly has the required expertise in search and the resources; with their declared goal to organize the world’s information, it is probably the best positioned to deliver this vision. Of course, it will be far from easy, as long as Facebook doesn’t allow access to their ever growing repository of information. It will also most likely cause heavy backlashes related to the privacy of handing over such amounts of personal information to a single company. But in the end it could prove a major benefit for users and revitalize search in general.