Posts tagged as aol

How Mr. Search Engine came to know You

Friday September 1st, 2006 in , , , , , , ,

Search engine companies are getting a lot of attention right now by the media (no pun intended). To name but a few articles:

  • We’ve seen AOL release identifiable search history for 100.000s of users
  • Microsoft is adding the third dimension to search - the users
  • Yahoo announced they use complex models to analyze user behavior
  • Google holds multiple patents for a technology they call Profile Rank

As expected this means that tools for private browsing are getting more focus. Some work by deleting browser history, cookies etc. on the client computer, while others attempt to mask the real user behavior by performing random searches on behalf of the user. It will be interesting to see how this battle for privacy develops, but let’s look at how we got here in the first place.

Ok, so what does every modern search engine need?:

  • Hardware - processing power, memory, storage, network equipment
  • Infrastructure - secure data centers, massive bandwidth and power
  • Talented people - the web is a large place and users want relevant results in less than a second
  • Huge sums of money -  to pay for the three items above

As users we’ve come to expect unlimited free access to search engines. Using them has become so ingrained that I’ve caught my self shouting “the web just broke” if Google.com is down. I couldn’t do my job without search engines - something I would imagine a lot of people share with me. Interestingly I’ve never paid as much as a single cent to use the search engines. Instead, I give them a considerable amount of my attention almost every day. Each time I search I’m stating my intentions, what I’m interested in, but in return I get instant access to relevant information across the world.

Seeing as we have reached 1 billion Internet users, and that advertising on search engines is already a $14-billion-a-year business, the attention of the average Internet user is currently valued at $14 per year. I personally think that this figure indicates that we’ve only just begun to see search engines tap into the value of attention. Why? Every day the results from search engines help people make important decisions, stay informed and buy the right products. From this perspective $14 seems almost insignificant.

Where does all of this leave us? As I see it, the price of attention will continue to be directly linked to the quality of search engines. For this reason, search engine companies will continue to develop technology that gets inside the heads of its users. We will get even more relevant results and be served ads that anticipate what we want before we know it. The one question that we all have to ask ourselves is this:

  • Mr. Search Engine: Enjoyed your stay?
  • You: Yes, thank you. I found what I was looking for
  • Mr. Search Engine: Will you be paying in cash or attention?

Make the choice…