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article imageOp-Ed: Apple Spotlight vs Google search — Big changes on the way

By Paul Wallis     Jun 11, 2015 in Internet
Sydney - Apple is about to provide a massive challenge to Google’s core business search service. In theory, this is good market business, creating competition where, let’s face it, there is almost none. This could, however, be a cascade of change.
The new Apple Spotlight search seems pretty straightforward, ads-free, and rather pointedly has “no paid inclusions.” That’s been a Google cash cow, understandably so, but it’s also a potential weak spot in the monolith.
The problem with searches
The major problem is inefficient, clumsy, not to say maddening, searches. Everybody’s seen a search with strangely irrelevant information in it. It’s a legitimate basis for complaint. Nobody wants or needs extraneous information. This is another primary weak spot which could easily be targeted.
If you’ve ever done any coding, you know all about the “read” function in basic coding. This is a programmed direction to read a specific bit of information. It’s ultra-simple. Searches online, however, generate damn near any old thing. Name searches work, but compound words, “+” and Boolean searches aren’t really all that efficient.
It’s hard to believe that 20 years after the Desktop Big Bang, searches are now basically stagnant. Searches use up time, patience, and “guess the keyword” drives everybody from SEO experts to basic shoppers up the wall. Some site searches are excellent, usually those centered on databases, while those based on the moving target of search terms combinations are all over the place.
Apple’s move is also, fortuitously, slap bang on target for a new generation which has never known the primitive brutality of non-digital systems. Their tastes are based on performance, not awe. The “iGeneration” of the last decade or so are fully up to speed on apps, functions, and have a certain level of expectation.
Experienced non-Apple users also have certain expectations of Apple as the great leveller in terms of competition and driving new initiatives which also affect them. That’s one image Steve Jobs imprinted on the world very effectively — Apple is the competitor, in any field. That’s a very important marketing perspective, and marketing positioning move, when talking about a new search competitor for Google.
Safari didn’t quite cut it with global users. It was OK, but bland. It wasn’t demonstrably super-different, or trying to be different. Call it a direct challenge to Google, however, and Spotlight becomes instantly interesting.
Now consider what’s possible — imagine a custom search page, formatted for easy access with a few DIY features for all the stuff you actually want. You could do a lot of business searches, like I do, and have an instant search function for different types of search. You could have a journalism search with Reuters, AP, AFP, etc. built in. Think “custom/save search with more grunt.”
You could even have a search tweaking option, to reconfigure a search which almost got it right. Another, very interesting possibility is IBM’s “cognitive computing”, applied to searches. The search engine learns, and reconfigures to deliver its searches better. As a research option, that’d be very good.
Another, potentially revolutionary option is the “dirty data” search option I wrote about some time ago. This is the SYMAN system, a way of managing data on Facebook, of all places, to build a full profile of nurses on Facebook, using that famous Facebook page quality of information to generate excellent search results. (If you can get good accurate search results out of that almost infinite load of misspelled, quasi-literate ad hoc garbage, you’re better than good. You’re the new face of search engines.)
Let’s get this straight — this is everybody’s business. Searches make the world work better or worse. The reason for all these floral tributes to search technology is that the search industry is building up a lot of tech which will change it completely, and very much for the better. The next generation of searches will outperform anything ever seen before, and that’s all to the good, to be encouraged and supported.
Google, to a degree of credit, is aware of its less than gymnastic state at the moment. It’s bureaucratic, it can be quite turgid, and if I see one more “Read more…” I’m going to scream. (I found this out talking to a Google associate who was more than helpful, and who they directed to me to deal with some site issues without, however, telling me. Seems they know the issues, but they’re a huge company, and change takes time.)
The overall image is that Google hasn’t lost the plot so much as lost track of the warp speed accelerator for doing things at the sort of speed they’d prefer to be working at. They did me a real favor in a few seconds, but the memory of ploughing through Google Analytics info for those millions of years gives me a queasy feeling to this day. Google hasn’t gone corporate and senile in that sense, yet, and with a bit of luck, Spotlight may be the spur to getting off the couch and producing some killer product.
Google searches, however, are a mixed blessing. I do a lot of SEO work. Fortunately for me, I deal with SEO people who routinely get their clients in the top 10 of searches, so I don’t have to look too hard for them, or worry about whether the millions of words I write will be stuck in cyber-oblivion, but for other searches, the difference is appalling. I find Google reasonably quick, but erratic, in terms of search results.
In marketing terms, Apple has found a possible hole in the unbeatable business. iPhones are an ideal platform for Spotlight, which means a few hundred million instant users who’ll definitely be interested in the initial product.
Not wanting to be too bitchy but still wanting to chuck a few conceptual bricks in to the mix on principle - Spotlight can also expect some response from Google, depending on its performance. If it becomes a real competitor, Google could come back with a whole new bag of tricks, probably the stuff in the theory/development stage at the moment.
The result would be better, less infuriating, and more efficient, searches. That’s good news for everybody, particularly us SEO critters who’d like to see the most efficient searches for our keywords and key phrases.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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