[caption id="attachment_619" align="alignleft" width="300" caption=""I don't know who discovered water, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't a fish." -- Marshall McLuhan"][/caption]
Marshall is suggesting that familiarity is the home of the oblivious. Our blinders are affixed to our unblinking screens. We put them on once and no interruption can slip between our trackable eyeballs and our data plans. Digital natives may awake ready to greet the dawn or completely hung over. Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt says that either way, they wake-up connected.
Being offline requires a manual override. It's not natural. And it requires reflexes, negotiations, and a tolerance for uncertainties that can't be novelized in gaming or commerce.
At last weekend's first annual Valley Summit, a forty-something social media marketer was addressing the virtues of Google Analytics to the conference gallery. He mentioned how his pet store merchandiser/client delivered him a handful of variations on the naming of some hot-selling accessory for dogs. But then he ran the keyword combos through Google AdWords and the verdict was unanimous: there is only one commonly accepted way that customers use to search for this item. That's right -- one way to the AdWords bidding auction or the highway of web marketing roadkill.
On one hand this was a battle of ideas between who keeps through my store and who lands on my site. On the other hand this is a major inversion-bender between the customer-leaning client and search-literate counsel. Man, talk about the client seeing the complexities of the world more clearly than their social media handlers!
The larger story here is that the new media brokers are all too willing to confuse the business model of a software giant for the marketplace itself. The fact that this single expression for doggie collars, leashes, or dinner bells is reducible to one expression says as much about the media buyers as it does about the search media. Each term in succession describes one thought planted in front of the next. That's the extemporaneous stamina of Google as mind-reader. There are no original search terms under the Google Sun.
It's one thing to "organize the world‘s information and make it universally accessible." It's quite another thing to appropriate the language for doing so as an auction-based sweepstakes where Google has trademarked all the concenants, vowels, and punctuation symbols. Every symbol on our keypads prompt a suggestion from Google. Our minds may be shooting blanks but our stares have been paved over by the power of Google suggestion.
I'm not suggesting this power is sinister any more than I'm suggesting that Google is acting as our scalable, benevolent, reference librarian in the cloud. Google is acting in its own corporate interest when it channels our curiosities into manageable chunks of its revenue model. The fact that the service is so compelling and the model is so persuasive means that Google's evisceration of the ad business sounds like the sour grapes of a dead fruit tree -- not the grounds for anti-trust litigation that awaited a browser-bundled PC empire when the Clinton Administration chased after Microsoft in the late nineties.
“The perfect search engine,” says co-founder and new CEO Larry Page, “would understand exactly what you mean and give back exactly what you want.” Page might be casting a perfectly earnest engineering posture. Or cynicism may compel him to see the non-paying Google public as a customer that doesn't know what it wants (other than for an intermediary to broker their virtual needs in a clean, unassuming interface). My money is on an enduring love of search science. That's as far as Larry's sincerity needs to travel for my purposes. I'll know that Larry shares my enthusiasm when he figures out a way to pad revenues from servicing the needs of researchers.
That's fantasy. One emerging reality is the appreciation of my new Pioneer Valley colleagues for brilliant search engineering. That's my takeaway from the first meetup of the Society for Useful Information last night in Northampton. That appreciation will deepen as they reverse engineer Google into doing their bidding on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other walled gardens to come. Perhaps then we'll start to warm to this reality: that we feel no pain with our fingers plugged into the sockets of Google Search.
Organic search, my ass.