Creative destruction and the future of search

By February 9, 2009 7 Comments

John Borthwick wrote a great post yesterday entitled Google Next Victim of Creative Destruction?.

First he cites Clayton Christensen from a talk he gave to AOL’s management back in 2000.  Barry Schuler – who later became CEO of AOL – was saying that AOL had disruption in it’s DNA and would therefore be able to keep innovating to stay ahead of the curve:

Christensen didn’t buy it.     He said time and time again disruptive business confuse adjacent innovation for disruptive innovation.   They think they are still disrupting when they are just innovating on the same theme that they began with.   As a consequence they miss the grass roots challenger — the real disruptor to their business.   The company who is disrupting their business doesn’t look relevant to the billion dollar franchise, its often scrappy and unpolished, it looks like a sideline business, and often its business model is TBD.

And as we know AOL failed to see what broadband would do to it’s business.

(Christensen is the author of the Innovators Dilemma and my favourite thinker on the subject of big companies and innovation.)

So what does this mean for the future of search?

The key insight for me from Borthwick’s post is that different forms of information retrieval have different blends of browse, navigation and search.  E.g. video search is a mixture of search and browse (and video now accounts for 25% of all Google’s searches).

I think the same is also true of social search.  I have thought a lot about social shopping over the last couple of years and have latterly been somewhat persuaded away from the sector due to the thought that at the point when you are deciding to buy something asking your friends (all of them) is unlikely to yield a useful result.  If you want a new car, the chances are that you only have one or two friends whose opinion you value on that particular topic and you don’t need a social shopping platform to find that out – email is fine.

Whilst this logic stands, I am now wondering if social search/browse/navigation could help you figure out what car you want in the weeks and months ahead of when you plan to make the actual purchase.  This is not a query in the Google sense “what car should I buy”, but more a general search query you leave going (of the form #Audi; #BMW etc) to see what your friends are saying/buying/doing in this product space.  Then if you see interesting stuff you click through and read it.

This is how people use Twitter as a content source.  The default query is “everything my friends are saying” but with Tweetdeck, Summize and other services you can be more specific.

The search category on Twitter is more realtime search – what is happening now, but I think this has the same sort of search/browse/navigation characteristics as social shopping.  (Borthwick is a shareholder in Twitter and Tweetdeck and realtime search was the main focus of his post.)

This mix of search/browse/navigation requires a very different interface to the clean Google search that we all know and love.  So whilst I think it is too early to assert that Google will be the next victim of creative destruction I do share John’s opinion that it will be challenging for them to think radically enough about abandoning their old search and navigation paradigms.