Maybe this is the future of search

Yesterday Microsoft announced the release version of its new MSN Search tool, and, as reported by CNet News, gears up for a marketing and advertising blitz to imprint its offering in consumers’ minds:

As expected, MSN, a unit of the software giant, has taken its Web search technology out of the laboratory, and placed it on MSN’s newly redesigned home page in 25 countries. […] It is the subject of Microsoft’s newest ad campaign, which includes television, print, Internet and outdoor promotions.

MSN Search Vice President Christopher Payne would not disclose ad spending, but he estimated that 90 percent of Americans, as well as U.K. and Japanese residents, will encounter the campaign. Television ads, for example, will run during the Super Bowl, the Oscars and the Grammys. “Oh, you’re going to notice it,” he said.

There’s an insightful article in yesterday’s Financial Times that discusses in some depth what the future of computer-based searching might look like, and makes this key point:

[In the future,] finding information would not involve going to a separate place – a search engine – to ask a question. Instead, the answer would present itself wherever you happened to be, and in the most appropriate form. “Search will become more and more important and less and less visible,” says [Craig] Silverstein at Google. “It will be ubiquitous and invisible.” At that stage, depending on your point of view, Google and its rivals would either be one of the most powerful forces shaping everyday life or just another invisible cog in the great Information Age machine that is being created out of the internet.

The FT article includes these notional news flashes from the future:

May 2008. Google launches G-Life, a substitute for the fallible human memory. By searching your e-mail, instant messages and telephone calls, and with the help of voice recorders set up around the home, you can now recall everything you said or wrote.

November 2008. Yahoo!’s new MobileBuddy, a voice-activated search engine, gives you real answers wherever you are. No more long lists of websites to pick through: just ask it what you want to know. MobileBuddy will also vibrate if the groceries you are about to buy are available more cheaply elsewhere.

October 2009. Regulators uncover e-mails that hint at the scope of Microsoft’s search engine ambitions. According to its critics, by building its search engine into Windows, Office and other software, Microsoft is on the way to controlling access to the world wide web.

January 2010. 10 years after America Online bought Time Warner, Google acquires Walt Disney. The mania for internet distribution again has the upper hand over entertainment “content”.

Fanciful? Perhaps. But the FT says that the search-engine business is at the beginning of a wave of innovation that could change many aspects of everyday life and reshape parts of the information industry. Google has demonstrated the power of search, Microsoft and Yahoo are in hot pursuit and a crowd of other search companies are seeking a gap.

Financial Times | ‘Friendly’ engines that manage the data of daily life (paid subscription required)

Such crystal-ball-gazing isn’t unlike the reverse look envisioned by EPIC which was demonstrated to participants at the New Communications Forum 2005 last week by keynote speaker Andy Lark.

Last word from the FT’s article:

Ultimately, all the random, unstructured information contained on web pages and other data-repositories could be subjected to a form of structuring that made it more intelligible to machines. This is the idea behind the Semantic Web, a vision of the future internet promoted by Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web.