There are two news items today that speak to a similar theme: the limitations of search. Search is a remarkably powerful tool and has become the de facto way people find their way around the Internet (bookmarks are dead, though RSS/feeds are on the rise). But it has numerous limitations as a content discovery tool.
Here are the items:
Item number 2: Google is introducing “queryless search” (personal recommendations based on search history and group behavior for registered Google users).
As Chris Sherman points out, Google’s personalized recommendations is similar to StumbleUpon. Google in introducing this is seeking to offer a way for users to discover content that doesn’t involve their active “searching” for it. In the frenzy surrounding search as a kind of metaphor for everything what has been lost is a kind of “serendipitous” discovery of content. This is like the difference between reading the print newspaper (where you “browse”) and an online newspaper (where you go right to specific sections or stories: “search”).
Social media also figure in here (and as part of StumbleUpon) as a mechanism to compensate for some of the perceived “deficiencies” of search. In StumbleUpon the community surfaces sites and content that you might never have discovered on your own but are very interesting and potentially worthwhile.
Think also of the “most emailed” news stories on a newspaper website (e.g., the NY Times). This is an enormously popular feature and helps people discover content they might not have seen themselves. It’s the community in action.
We need search as a tool to get us from here to there online or for quick information lookups. But we also need alternative mechanisms to help us discover content and information we otherwise might not have known.
After all, I don’t know what I don’t know.