Inspired by a colleague who proclaimed that “books would be dead” in five years, I posed a tongue-in-cheek question on my Facebook page, asking “what will disappear first, books or the book review section” of newspapers?
Expecting similarly tongue-in-cheek answers, I instead received this:
“I read a story today in the New York Times Magazine about a guy who gave up his Ph.D. and work in intellectual think tanks to become a motorcycle mechanic. This was a fantastic article that no search engine would ever have found for me. I do not do searches on PhD, think tanks or motorcycle maintenance. Thank you, New York Times. That is what newspapers and magazines can do. Bring you the things you didn't know you wanted.”
Now, you can analyze this position in many ways, but for me, it boils down to this: There are search engines that learn from us (Google) and search engines that teach us (Journalists). We need both, and neither should diminish at the expense of the other.
The Next Level of Search
“Search” may well become the most overused and misunderstood word or phrase in social media since, well, “social media.”
According to a recent white paper issued by my company, there are four kinds of search: Paid, Optimized, Reputational and Social. While correct, the paper overlooks one key fact – for content to be found, people need to know that they want to find it.
Most search strategies and methodologies today are about creating visibility and order – learning what people want, taking them to it, and helping them organize it. As a result, search is moving closer to that Web 1.0 dream of “intelligent agents” roaming the web, fulfilling your every request.
But what if you don’t know what you want until you see it? It’s great to have search that understands me, but I want a search that teaches me. I want serendipity.
Computers learn, people teach -- and this is where journalism and the printed word can still lead.
Journalists as “Search Agents”
Those “intelligent agents” we all wanted? They are called reporter and editors. They are magazines, newspapers and, yes, books.
These are the search agents that advance us and force us to confront what we didn’t think we needed or wanted to know. It doesn’t matter how well a search engine learns to learn if, in the end, it teaches us nothing.
So the next time you are in Barnes & Noble or Borders, look around and remember that you are standing inside a search engine, a vast repository of knowledge that is waiting for discovery. Pick up a newspaper (if there are any left in your town) and see what the “search agents” found for you to read.
Many people today believe that if the news is important enough, it will find them. Perhaps – but I’d rather find it for myself. With any luck, I’ll find exactly what I don’t want.