The Search is a book about Google, the search industry and where it is heading. This book has been in the top 5 on Amazon’s Computers & Internet list from the day it was published. Being a big fan of Google and the search space in general, I couldn’t resist giving it a shot.
To be honest, I nearly put the book down after the first couple of chapters. Battelle goes on and on about the history of search and other less than interesting topics. I wasn’t really hooked on this one until I was more than a hundred pages into it. I’m glad I didn’t give up, though.
The heart of the book talks about the true reach of search and how it can be applied outside the traditional computer space to put a new spin on old products. Battelle gives a good example where your Google history is merged with your TiVo (or other DVR) viewing/recording tendencies. The combination of these two areas leads to a new approach to TV content delivery with more targeted programs and commercials. For example, would you subscribe to a free or reduced rate cable/DVR system if it meant you had to watch some (reasonable) number of highly relevant commercials each month? I would. (The relevancy of those commercials is determined by what you’ve searched for on Google, what shows you tend to watch, etc.)
As you’ve no doubt read elsewhere, the era of the mass targeted advertisement seems to be coming to a close. It’s not as effective today for P&G to put an ad for Tide on the nightly news as it was 20 years ago; P&G probably hasn’t helped their cause by offering a zillion different versions of Tide, but that’s a separate issue… Battelle sheds some light on how advertising becomes more focused like a rifle shot rather than the shotgun approach we typically see today. I also wonder if that doesn’t open the door for companies who wouldn’t typically advertise this way today: It’s ridiculously expensive for a publisher to produce a television ad for a book in today’s model, but does it become more viable when they know the ad is viewed by a smaller, more targeted audience of prospects who, by their search and viewing trends, tend to be more likely to buy this sort of book?
Privacy was another interesting issue tackled in this book. My opinion is, “Do I really care who knows what my search and website visitation history looks like?” Heck, if it helps me find an answer quickly or saves me a buck, I’m totally open to sharing this “private” information. I figure if you’ve got nothing to hide, why worry? Thanks to all those frequent buyer cards on my keychain, I already make my purchasing habits known at grocery stores, bookstores, pet stores, etc., so why not allow my Amazon and other online purchases to be tracked as well? If you’re going to give me a discount you can have my data. As you can see, I’ve never quite bought into the arguments presented by all those privacy advocates who are trying to “protect” me.
Battelle also talks about capturing clickstreams and how they can be used to help solve problems. Just as Amazon uses their various recommendation programs, based on the buying habits of other customers, why can’t Google help me figure out which of their search result links are the ones most clicked on? Which site did previous Googlers wind up at in the end and spend the most time on? Perhaps that sort of information could be rolled in to Google’s PageRank algorithm in the future.
My advice: Pick this one up, but don’t be afraid to skip the first 4 or 5 chapters.