Search Stops Here, Starts Afresh On Mobile

Editor’s note: David Senior is the CEO and co-founder of Lowdownapp

When Yahoo started, it was just a flat hierarchical directory of new sites on the web – “Cool Site of the Day!” was actually a thing. But the web quickly outstripped the ability of that structure to keep up to date: the Cool Site of the Day would have to be site of the hour, or minute, or second, as the number grew exponentially.

Pretty soon, a directory wasn’t enough; search came along, with sites like AltaVista (younger readers, ask your parents) ranking sites according to the number of times the relevant text appeared on the page. This quickly fell victim to the first wave of black hat SEO – pages stuffed with text to push them up the search results.

Then, Google began using the  “citation principle” from scientific papers: The more something is cited, the more important it must be. And so Google’s better search results took over the early web. You know the rest of the story. Until we get to mobile – especially modern-day mobile.

But now we spend our time on smartphones in apps, not browsers. ComScore’s mobile app report for May 2014 for U.S. users found they spent 60 percent of their time on mobile (up from 50 percent in 2013), and spent 85 percent of that time inside apps.

People do still search on mobile – but ComScore’s data shows that in any month, only about half of people in the U.S. use Google search on mobile. Is that because Google is worse on mobile? Of course not. It’s because even with location data, Google’s search engine can’t know the answers to the questions we tend to have, such as what’s the background of the people I’m seeing at my next meeting? How long is it until my next meeting? What notes have I made about it? When did I last meet them? When do I have to leave for my next meeting? Is there a well-rated place to eat nearby? Or, perhaps, who else is going to be at this event organized on Facebook? What do I know about them?

Those are vertical search questions; it would take a ton of searching to get the answers to each one. Yet apps have all that information. Want to know about people you’re meeting? They’re probably on LinkedIn – and their company details will be available through sites like DueDil. Where’s the meeting, and how much time will it take to get there? Maps, of course. What are you going to talk about there? That’s all in the document stored in your Dropbox account, surely.

For the modern smartphone-based world, doing web searches begins to feel as antiquated as looking at the Site of the Day.

Instead, what’s coming is a raft of smart apps that are able to harness our social graph — whether in business or personal — and give us search results that are properly tailored to what we need to know right when we want to.

It’s a new form of search, and one that’s long overdue; just as everyone realized in retrospect that the “citation” method was the best way to determine web page rankings, it’s going to become clear that the answer to lots of apps isn’t more apps. It’s one app pulling them together — a gestalt view of our busy lives.