As mobile devices dictate the terms of search and how results are being conveyed to end users, there's another phenomenon that will greatly influence the future of search - very soon, we're going to be swimming in more data than we will know what to do with.
The rise of the Internet of Things means billions of physical objects will soon generate massive amounts of data 24 hours a day. Not only will this make traditional search methods nearly impossible to use, it will also create an environment where instead of looking for things in the world, those things will be seeking us out to give us all sorts of information that will help us fix, use or buy them.
Search Collides With Internet Of Things
When talking about the Internet of Things, it is important to get past the hype and explain exactly what it is: vast numbers of automated physical devices and objects connected to the Internet. These devices are usually routers, switches, phones… but increasingly devices like security cameras and remote climate sensors are being added - and over time we can expect everything from cars to refrigerators to join the party.
(See also Futurist's Cheat Sheet: Internet Of Things.)
At this moment in history, the relationship between search and devices on the Internet resembles the model of searching for Web content: you search for data from devices, and you get it.
The Shodan search engine follows this model very well. Using Shodan is pretty much like using Google or any other search engine: enter your search string and up pops quite a few results matching devices that Shodan has found on the Web. Routers, cameras, municipal control systems… they're all there to see.
CNN, true to its alarmist nature, recently described Shodan as the "The scariest search engine on the Internet" - and indeed, there are some disturbing aspects to using Shodan. Entering the search term "cisco-ios last-modified" - a term suggested by Shodan itself as popular - reveals a number of Cisco-based devices on the Internet that had not been updated in a very long time. Such devices could be very vulnerable to attack through well-known exploits.
Shodan exposes what security experts have known for a long time: a lot of devices connected to the Internet have been largely forgotten even as they continue chugging along performing tasks that range from mundane to mission-critical.
But Shodan, while interesting, will probably not represent the future of searching Internet of Things. Instead, as the world around us "wakes up" and becomes increasingly connected to the Internet, the world will talk to us without our having to look for it.
When The World Touches You
Here is one vision of how this potential future might work:
Imagine, says J Schwan, CEO of Solstice Mobile, walking into an office building in which you are a maintenance technician about to start your day. Over the course of the previous day and evening, various tickets were filed by the building's tenants (or maybe even by the devices themselves): a squeaky door here, a hiccuping elevator there. An app on your phone lists the problems to be fixed - ordered by priority and optimized for maximum efficiency. This is a system that Solstice is working on now for clients.
Other examples abound. A department store could be populated with products connected to the Internet via RFID tags. Customers could walk in, request a certain item, and see a map to that item's exact location displayed on their phones. Or even see it as an augmented-reality display on their Google Glass or other wearable computer.
The same store's managers could use augmented-reality displays to view sales figures of the items the see on the shelves, perhaps in the form of a heat map that instantly indicates which items sell better in what position in the store. Just by speaking a couple words, they can have the stock room shift the position, or even update electronic price tags on the shelves to attract more buyers. Those price updates, by the way, then show up as alerts on shoppers' devices.
Not Far Away
This world is not far off. Smartphones and other mobile devices can already tap into public search engines to discover more about the world around them. You can use augmented reality to see results displayed graphically on device screens.
As more and more objects join the Internet, they'll create information that will be added to the potential data you can receive, raising the level of information available by orders of magnitude. This will be both a boon (more data to help make decisions) and a curse (so much data you could drown).
Searches, as active tasks, will become less needed - and less practical - as not just the Web, but the whole world around us will automatically send us information based on our preferences. And the questions we will have to ask will be far simpler and less arduous to construct.
Instead of entering "2013 best televisions" in your browser to get back lots of data in the form of articles and content, you'll be able to stand in the store and ask "which one of these TVs is the best for me for me right now?" and see the answers (based on your budget, space and other preferences) right in front of you.
Knowing the tenacity of advertisers, you probably won't even have to ask.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.