Google

What Happens When You Merge Search Into Payments?

This is the main question asked internally at Seconds as we are working on a huge redesign of the mobile system.

Google has shown users are quite intent when searching for specific brands and products, that is why adwords is such a strong business.  The problem is the declining user experience.   The amount of time and number of clicks between the search and the purchase completion is growing.  Often times it can take numerous minutes and scores of clicks or finger swipes in order to complete a simple task such as making a quick payment.

Today, time is money.  A mere second, just a fraction of our life, is precious and valuable.   Anything that wastes it, in my opinion, is not worth doing.

Seconds was created to speed up the payment process, especially on the mobile device.  It removes all the excess layers and allows the essential functions to be completed as fast and as secure as possible.  Seconds was created to give time back to the customer.

That’s why we recently started looking at how to provide the best (read quickest) payment experience on the web.  We stumbled upon an interesting discovery, merging Search and Payments into a rich user experience.

Who do you want to pay?

Imagine being met with this statement… what do you do with it?  You could simply search a person, business or organization’s name and Seconds could find them based on our database or Facebook and other open graphs.  Same for twitter @username.  Using phone number, you could find them on Seconds or if not, invite them with quick text.  Same with email, either they are located or invited.

Once the recipient is located on Seconds, you simply enter the amount and make a payment to the merchant.  You also have the ability to see what they are offering (via keywords) and the prices associated.

Keywords offer the most intriguing possibilities of the future of search and payments. Imagine searching Pizza, Sandwich or Mariners on Seconds and being able to find something close by and quickly make a payment.

Already, Seconds allows merchant’s to create any number of keywords with dollar amounts associated.  Anytime a repeat customer sends the keyword to the merchant’s Seconds number via text message, a transaction instantly takes place.  Notice how the repeat experience can bypass what would at this point in the commercial relationship be considered a time waster.  An instant payment via text – it’s magic.

Yet the resulting data – keywords indexed and the inherent value associated – is the strongest future prospect.  Seconds indexes those keywords so indeed, they are also searchable.  This opens up a vibrant and rich search commerce experience void of the millions of worthless links Google provides us today.   The problem with Google is the deluge of information has muddled our user experience.  It takes me longer to search, find and make a purchase than I would like, which in the end frustrates me.

Its time Search was rebuilt with deeper purposes in mind, outside of indexing the entire world.  There’s just too much data and links out there to satisfy any user experience.

As Seconds grows and more merchants engage with the system – be it larger brands or smaller sole proprietors – there’s a massive opportunity to build out a more tightly focused commerce engine, one built with mobile at its core.   In this new engine, not only do merchants create an open avenue for people to pay them as easy and quickly as possible, but they now are able to be found via search on a system specifically built for payments and commerce.

Yes, some very interesting possibilities are available once payments and search merge as one.  Possibilities that, quite frankly, I have no idea what would look like right now.  We know this is only the beginning but the foundation being set down right now has very interesting future prospects.  Look for Seconds updated payment system to be released at the end of September, we believe you will be pleasantly surprised.

Hey Google Wallet, Square and PayPal – Mobile Payments Should Be This Easy

NFC is not required.

There’s no app to download.

No special device needed to make a purchase.

Apple’s iOS and Android may be popular operating systems, but they aren’t needed to use Seconds. Seconds merges transactions into one of the most popular technologies in the world, SMS messaging.  More than 234 million consumers holding mobile devices in the U.S. can use our payment system today because they can text.  Step back a second and think about that.  Why are barriers in the way of an everyday activity like payments?  There should be no barrier to usage, no device requirements or specific apps to download.  Isn’t that how mobile payments should be –  simple, quick, easy and available to anyone?

Why is that so important you might ask?  The diffusion and resulting adoption of a new technology is at the mercy of its availability to consumers.  Why did email spread so quickly?  Simply because people only needed a computer and an internet connection.  The same goes with credit cards, people don’t need a special wallet to carry a credit card, they just need it in hand to correctly communicate with the terminal and make a payment.  If mobile payments are to be available to all we must start at the lowest common denominator.  Today’s common denominator is the device – not a specific model or operating system – but the general mobile device itself, which at last count was almost 6 billion worldwide.  That’s a big market.  And the first to grab consumer mindshare will be one of the big winners.

Once an account is set up, which connects Seconds to your mobile device, all you need to do in order to pay for something is type the keyword and you are automatically charged. Or if you have communicated purchase intent with a merchant, they simply hit one button and a confirmation text is sent to your phone.  Interestingly, this makes a consumer’s mobile number their new payment credential and opens up many new avenues for quick mobile transactions.

The video below shows how one of our pilot customers is using Seconds to distribute their food products around Seattle and beyond.  The hungry person approaches the fridge, texts the word ‘wrap’, a payment confirmation is automatically sent back a few seconds later and they grab the wrap and go on their way.  That’s the future folks…  it’s so much a part of the future Walmart, Target and other large retailers are fussin‘ to build a custom mobile payment experience of their own.

Even better, Seconds allows merchants to program their mobile payments system to create any number of keywords with prices attached so their customers can text and pay with certain words sent to the merchants’ Seconds number.  We have already sat around and wondered what happens when Siri gets involved?

Seconds sits at the convergence of communications and transactions, two activities going through tremendous innovation and both which are germane to commerce.  It’s a perfect marriage and a perfect time to merge the two.  Quite frankly, you really don’t want one without the other since more communications leads to more transactions and vice versa. It’s an absolute virtuous cycle for any merchant.

Also realize Seconds dissociates proximity from transaction, meaning I don’t have to be standing in front of a barista or wave my phone on something to make a purchase, the obvious limitation to NFC payments. This frees up the mobile device to become the new payment terminal, a terminal that resides in the consumer’s hand rather than sitting on the merchants counter.

Mobile transactions will explode once the experience is so quick and simple it only takes Seconds to complete.

Welcome to Seconds.

One Big Problem: The Worlds #1 Search Engine Is Not The Worlds #1 Social Network

Google just made a big, bold move and integrated Google+ profiles into their search results.  Yesterday, Google launches Personal Results,Profiles in Search, and People and Pages, new features of its core search product that mark the real beginning of Google’s social search era.

It looks something like this:

The big problem with this is that Google, the worlds best place to search and find information, is assuming my Google+ profile is the most relevant social profile about me and so it should be surfaced first.  Well, I will tell you this:  It’s not.   I rarely (if ever) update Google+ with links, updates and information.   LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter are better representations of me and my interests.

Sorry Google.  You are not my default social identity.

When Google+ launched months ago there was a strong reaction around the fact that we don’t need another social profile to keep updated.  There are already too many and this fact still remains true today.  Interestingly, I have seen less Google+ requests lately than I did last fall.

I bet this is the same for millions of other people.  I bet more people keep Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn updated and informed than their Google+ profile.

Am I correct?

@jnickhughes

Here’s Google’s Homepage 1999 vs. 2012. Can You Tell The Difference?

Today’s design lesson:  Don’t change what’s working.  Here are two screenshots of Google’s homepage; one from May 1999 and one from January 2012.  See much difference?

1999

2012

May 1999 was almost 13 years ago!  The web has changed dramatically since then, yet Google’s search experience hasn’t.  This is a huge lesson for anyone looking to get traction.  One of the most difficult aspects of brining a product to market is user education – meaning after they hear about your product how easily do they start using it.  It’s important because when a user knows how to use a product or service they will tell others about it.

If they can’t use it, they won’t tell anyone.  It’s that simple.

Google has done many thing correctly, but arguably the best was to design their user interface so anyone could use it.  I bet your Grandma knows how to use Google.  I bet your child knows as well.

Can you say that about your web or mobile service?  Are you making it as easy as possible to use your product?

Shoppers, Please Don’t’ Fight At The Mall. Play Mallopoly Instead!

The holidays are coming in full swing and that can only mean one thing – Malls.  If you are like me, you’re not overly excited to brave this crazy world for hours on end.  Crying babies, screaming kids, frustrated shoppers and too much perfume can give anyone a headache.   Also like me, you might get a bit disturbed by the fighting that seems to have become a Black (eye) Friday tradition.

Have no fear…. Point Inside is here to calm your nerves and bring a little more fun to the holiday shopping experience.  They are adding to the holiday spirit with the upcoming launch of a new in-app game, Mallopoly, inside the Point Inside Shopping & Travel app.  Players can win a $100 American Express Gift Card through a daily random drawing between now and Dec. 31, 2011. Players can also win the $1000 Grand Prize gift card to be drawn on Jan. 2, 2012.

Point Inside helps retailers increase sales and profits by engaging customers in real-time using micro-location, indoor mapping, personalized content and apps.  They must have the right idea, Google seems to be thinking the same thing, although I doubt Google has created a cool game of Mallopoly for holiday shoppers.  The game play is pretty simple. Players gain entries into the drawing for the following:

• By claiming a place in the app, such as a store or restaurant (one place per day)

• When your place page is viewed (one view per place page per person per day)

• By sharing the app with a friend (one share is counted per day)

Playing the game requires updating to version 3.1 of the Point Inside Shopping & Travel app. The Android version will be live Tuesday; iPhone app should be live by the end of the week.  Press release is below.

Mallopoly Game to Launch within Point Inside Shopping & Travel App

Players can claim places within the app to be eligible to win daily $100 prizes and $1000 Grand Prize

 

Bellevue, WA — November 30, 2011 —Point Inside, Inc. (www.pointinside.com) today announced the launch of the Holiday Edition of its new in-app game, Mallopoly™. By “claiming” places in the app, such as Nordstrom in Bellevue Square Mall, players become eligible to win the Daily Prize of $100 and the Grand Prize of $1000. Players receive additional entries in the random drawing when another person visits their place inside the app or the player shares the app with another person.

“This is an exciting step forward in evolution of our shopping and travel app,” says Josh Marti, CEO at Point Inside. “We’ve had a tremendously positive response when we launched the latest version of Point Inside Shopping & Travel app with hundreds of thousands of deals. Now we’re creating a completely new level of shopper engagement by adding a very rewarding game to the app.”

The gameplay and rules are simple. A player gets an entry into the daily drawing when they “claim” one of the millions of places in the Point Inside app. Additional entries are gained from people visiting that place and sharing the app with friends. Winners for the daily $100 American Express Gift Card are randomly drawn from the previous day’s entries. All entries through December 31, 2011, are eligible for the Grand Drawing of a $1000 American Express Gift Card. Mallopoly starts Monday, November 28, and is available immediately for Android platforms; iPhone will be available shortly following iTunes App Store approval.

“This Holiday Edition of Mallopoly is the first of many for the game. We see it as another way to make more shoppers aware of great deals in both their local areas and in the stores they like,” says Marti.

The Point Inside Shopping & Travel app features include:

  • Hundreds of thousands of deals by location and venue, such as a specific mall or selected geographic areas
  • Special offers from national brands and local retailers
  • Listings of millions of retailers searchable by location and category including clothing and electronics
  • In-venue navigation features with routing
  • Maps of over 1300 shopping malls, airports, theme parks and other points of interest.
  • Store and shop directory information including store hours, contact information 
and special events
  • Complete list of services including restaurants, restrooms, ATMs, parking, elevators, escalators, rental cars, gates and ticketing counters.
  • Driving directions to locations (available for Android)

About Point Inside, Inc.

Point Inside has transformed the shopping experience by enabling retailers to engage proactively with customers through their smartphones at every point along the purchase path. Mobile apps driven by the Point Inside Interact™ platform increase sales, loyalty and customer satisfaction from initial research and product discovery to the creation of shopping lists and in-store activities. This new level of customer engagement is made possible through Point Inside’s patent-pending technologies in indoor mapping, micro-location services and customer engagement.

Point Inside also offers consumers a free mobile application, Point Inside for Shopping and Travel., on iOS and Android devices. Users can quickly find stores, gates, kiosks, restrooms, elevators, escalators, and other guest services in over 1300 malls, airports, theme parks and other venues.

Founded in 2009 and based just outside of Seattle, the company is led by a team of executives with decades of experience developing mobile and location-based services (LBS) applications for companies such as Amazon, AT&T, Boeing, and Qualcomm.  Additional details can be found at: www.pointinside.com; Facebook: www.facebook.com/PointInside; Twitter: www.twitter.com/PointInside.

@jnickhughes

Groupon, Google, Ebay or Amazon: Who Will Win The Local Market?

No doubt he local space is heating up.  We are starting to see an all out war and currently there are 4 major players lining up their guns and taking aim on the local marketplace.

Groupon recently went public on the Nasdaq and is the undisputed king of daily deals, creating a new movement in local commerce known as the group coupon.  Yet things are not all rosy as they also created quite a bit of controversy as they approached the finish line.  Their numbers are greatly scrutinized  and they can’t seem to shake questions regarding the validity and sustainability of their current model.  Groupon no doubt made a significant splash in the local space, but do they have what it takes to transform our daily consumer lifestyle?

Google’s eyes have been on the local economy ever since they realized a critical mass of searches are local in origin.  Early on they knew local was a goldmine, the tough part has been designing products which bridge the gap between local consumer and local merchant in a way that adds value for both.  Google Places, HotPot, the purchase of Zagat, the failed acquisition of Groupon, and now Google Offers are all attempts to make a play on the local marketplace.  But to date it is hard to argue they have made any significant progress in solving the local market conundrum.  Will they do it?

EBay, the buyer/seller marketplace who has lingered on the outskirts of the web for more than a decade (and hinged earnings on a payment platform) looks to be emerging as a solid player in the local marketplace.  The combination of a number of acquisitions have placed them in a drivers seat helping power the next generation of location specific platforms.  Milo, Magento, Zong and Where all offer unique value propositions that when grouped together create a strong combination – and a strong competitor to the Googles and Amazons of the world.  This is one to watch…

The king of worldwide online commerce is Amazon, and I guarantee they their sights are set on the last mile of the web – the local market.  Their $175 million investment in LivingSocial seem a lot like a “look and feel” investment as they watch how the landscape is taking shape.  Make no mistake, the leader in worldwide e-commerce would love to be the worldwide leader in local commerce as well.  The question is, do they know how to do it in the way the everyday consumer will appreciate?

Ultimately, it is nearly impossible to predict who will eventually win out in the local market.   Remember, Google was late to the search party…

Another valid question is: will any of these major players hit the home run or will a new, tremendously different but effective startup with a better combination of commerce and communications transform our everyday consumer experience?

Share your thoughts in the comments.

 

Social Search Series Part IV: Will Quora Be More Valuable Than Google?

Social Search Series: This summer I am embarking on a journey through on the emerging web of Social Search. Traditionally known as the Questions & Answers industry, this category is currently being transformed by social and mobile technologies. No more asking a site questions and finding old answers.  I believe the future of the web is ingrained in the dynamic interdependence of social and informational networks. This is part IV of the series.  For background, check out the previous articles Part I here and  part IIand Part III here.

Googling may be the most popular way we currently search for information but mark my words, it will not be the primary way you find information in the future.  The previous articles in this series describe how the web has changed, grown exponentially, become more social and ultimately more difficult for traditional search engines to index.  That means you, as a user, are usually getting the wrong end of the search stick.

This article is about what keeps Google up shivering at night – the future of search lies not in what you know, but in who you know.

The search environment is splintering and I am postulating the next generation of search will reside within your network of contacts.  I call it Social Search.  In my first article a graph was used to illustrate four quadrants separating the field of emerging social search startups.  In my third article I talked about the first quadrant, Location Relevance, and what happens when you combine social, location and.  It looks as if a few associated startups, LOCQL and Localmind, are positioned well to change the very way we interact and search locally.

Quadrant: Location Agnostic

The next subcategory in social search can be referred to as Location Agnostic.  Some social search applications do not integrate location-based technologies into their functionality, but more or less originate around specific topics and expert knowledge.  Although these applications are location agnostic, they still can be relevant to many users and possibly become large search companies.  Refer back to my original post for the entire list, but here I will cover two of the best positioned startups.

StackExchange

Originally designed for professional and enthusiast programmers, Stackoverflow has emerged as one of the leaders in the social search space.  The StackExchange Network encompasses an additional 57 social sites like cooking, photography, etc.  Each of these sites is uniquely focused on it’s specific topic, and is called a “StackExchange”.  Collectively they are the StackExchange Network and with nice growth numbers now see almost 15 million users each month.

Here’s how it works: After someone asks a question, members of the StackExchange community propose answers. Others vote on those answers. Very quickly, the answers with the most votes rise to the top. You don’t have to read through a lot of discussion to find the best answer.

The growth of StackExchange is just another proof point aimed directly to replace swimming through the vast sea of links on the web, most of which are content farms or spam.  Simply put, these new approaches help people find better information quicker.  The unique take on mining expert knowledge for user search and discovery is quite clearly the future of search.  It is what I have been referring to over the past few articles “the future of search lies within your network of contacts“.

According to co-founder/CEO Joel Spolsky, the old question and answer model became flawed.  “I sort of feel like the first generation of Q&A sites, Yahoo Answers, WikiAnswers, and those, ended up accidentally being used for entertainment purposes. If you look at Yahoo Answers, it’s being used as a chat for teenage girls. It’s not really being used to get answers.”

StackOverflow’s answer is to focus on experts“We only select verticals where we have a critical mass of a couple hundred experts in the domain. We’re only interested in the domains where there’s something to learn – a corpus of knowledge, there’s a canon of knowledge, and people sharing knowledge are called experts.”

So why do I believe the future of search lies in a networks like StackExchange?  When experts are willing to divulge their knowledge, a site is able to collect and organize it, and more and more people start to use and share the information – *bing* the picture starts to become clearer.

Interestingly, Spolsky might not fully agree with my vision just yet.  “Our expectation is for the most part, people like to type their questions into Google and they’re not going to go to a specific site that often.”  Maybe he just can’t imagine a world where you could start following these experts, ones who you can look upon to bring you specific knowledge in areas of personal interest? In that world you wouldn’t have to go to Google anymore.  And what if you could infuse your social contacts in a way that…

Quora

QuoraQuora, founded by former Facebook employees, aims to build THE go-to application for the world’s wisdom and knowledge.  The cool thing about Quora is not only can you search and vote answers up or down, you can follow well known individuals as they continue to add their knowledge to the site.  Quora is combining the best of questions, answers, social contacts and search in an effort to build out a rich knowledge platform rivaled by no one.

They are the new Silicon Valley darling, garnering much attention and valuations around $1 billion yet still remaining a fraction of the size of StackExchange. Thus far they have maintained their focus on the relatively smaller tech community and it’s unknown if they can uphold their quality of answers as they grow in quantity of questions.

I searched Quora on the secret to getting actual value out of Quora, and as if on cue, here is an answer from Mircea Goia, a Web developer and web consultant (image above:

The value of Quora, as I see it, is that it connects you directly with the experts, experts which can give you elaborate answers on specific questions (the same would be on Stackoverflow.com for example if you are a programmer).

Where else could I find answers given by people like Yishan Wong, J.C. Hewitt, Mark Hughes, Marc Bodnick, Ken Miyamoto, Marc Andreessen, Ashton Kutcher, Adam D’Angelo, Max Levchin, Reed Hastings, Jonas M Luster and many other experts?

You have to find topics you are interested in and discover the experts.

On Google you find results, yes, but you have to sift through them, sort them, decide if they are right or not for you (you have to validate – here on Quora others are validating an answer), which takes time. Many times what you find is not so in dept as you may want. And it’s not personal either.

The greatest thing about these new search services is the best results and answers are voted to the top by other knowledgeable users, providing a much better user experience when observing results.  No more 10 links to a page.  No more SEO crap, where you see the first 10 results yet know they are there because someone knew how to “optimize” the site.  Superior optimization does not lead to superior information.

Although Quora currently attracts a relatively small user base, it might be to their advantage at this stage of the game.   As Yahoo answers became flooded with users, the the quality of information went way down, rendering the service meaningless to any serious web query.  If Quora can correctly harness the cornerstones of expert knowledge, social sharing and social discovery, as well as manage an appropriate growth curve becoming valuable to more and more web users, they have an opportunity to challenge the traditional search incumbents.

The value in Quora seems to be in what most see as in its incredible potential.  Semil Shah, recently on his own Social Search kick as well, has put the future of Quora best:

When all of these Quora threads are tagged in context within topics and subtopics, it builds out the site’s ultimate secret weapon: Topic Ontology. The ontology built so far within Quora is staggering.  For many topics in traditional verticals, the site has already mapped out all the relevant topics and subtopics, tagged them against other relevant pages, and created an entire hidden architecture of related pages that are all built into its own system with little to no contamination. Think of these topics as plates on a planet, rubbing against one another and moving over time to form entire new land masses — this is how fundamentally groundbreaking Quora could be for the web.

As I noted last time, research has shown that subjective queries can be monetized at 5x – 10x higher than objective queries.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see where all this is going, Shah agrees: “advertisements that are targeted against specific Quora threads will know everyone who has subscribed to that thread, their explicit interests, and related questions. That alone on an ad-model basis could be worth billions of dollars.”  The problem incumbents face is these types of platforms are so different they are usually built from the ground up using a whole new infrastructure, not tacked onto an existing search tool.  I wonder if Google and Microsoft have asked “What’s The future of Search?” on Quora lately?

The question remains – What will happen to Google’s dominant search position as these new platforms grow and take shape?  If history repeats itself, Google will be moved aside as another platform takes over (or a multitude of platforms share space in a more equal search market).  Once dominant IBM shed it’s power position to Microsoft.  Aol, valued at one time around $160 billion, lost it’s early web dominance to Google.  Facebook has emerged and has a stranglehold on the social networking space with a very interesting future ahead of them.

What Shah and myself are trying to get people to understand is this: “At the same time, no matter what, behind the scenes, Quora is slowly learning about our interests (both explicit and implicit), they way we use language, and our intent through search, following, and voting, using all of this information to perhaps reorganize the web and lay a new foundation for years to come.”  Same could be said about Facebook.  These are interesting times to say the least.

Look for my next post in this Social Search Series, as I determine if long term information still has a search value on today’s real time web.

@jnickhughes

The Future of Search: Why Humanoids Will Rein Over Androids

Social Search Series: This summer I am embarking on a journey through on the emerging web of Social Search.  Traditionally known as the Questions & Answers industry, this category is currently being transformed by social and mobile technologies.  No more asking a site questions and finding old answers.  I believe the future of the web is ingrained in the dynamic interdependence of social and informational networks.  This is part II of the series, you can find part I here.

In my last post I briefly covered how the nature of the web is rapidly shifting toward social.  I also noted the future of search does not look bright for Google, who seems to constantly struggle connecting social dots.  I call this new category (formerly known as Q&A) Social Search and here’s why I think it is emerging as the future of the web.

Semil Shah, in a recent post suggested Google is Asking the Wrong Question With Social.  He seems to agree with my stance:

Before the Internet, most “search” was conducted through offline directories and by the time-honored evolutionary tradition of asking questions. “Where would you recommend I stay on my trip to Hawaii?” “What dish did you order at that new restaurant in the hotel?” “Where can I get the best deal on that hotel?” Google has elegantly stripped down these queries and trained us to, instead, enter the following text in a search box: “Hawaii + hotel deal” or “Hawaii + restaurant + popular dish.”

Now, that might be how some geeks actually ask questions in real life, but this is not how we are wired to search. We are most accustomed to asking questions as an extension of our own curiosities.  And while Google keyword search is incredibly efficient, the content it points us to is unfortunately declining in quality. The bottom line is that although it’s never been easier to search online, it’s getting harder and harder to find exactly what we’re looking for because there are perverse incentives to not only create, but also promote, keyword-optimized content.

Eloquently put: traditional online search goes against our biological inclination of gathering information – asking questions.  Naturally, humans tend to search for information through asking other people questions because we intuitively know everyone is an expert at something.  And as hard as Google tries it cannot create an algorithm as intelligent as a human being, let alone harness the quality of knowledge curated from many different people and perspectives.

So what’s the point of social Q&A and why is it merging into the next form of search?

I would postulate the original point of asking questions – even dating back to prehistoric times – was actually search.  It was how humans searched for information before Google, PageRank and keywords were available.  Cavemen conducted searches when they asked others where they made their last killing for the same reason we, in the 21st century, type “pizza” into a Google search bar; to find out where to have dinner.  Because most humans are now constantly connected, it feels more natural to use social tools to find information.  Notice how often we send out messages on Facebook or twitter asking our friends  this or that, if they have eaten at a certain Pizzeria or seen the latest Transformers movie.  It is not a coincidence social questions are increasing at a rapid rate.

As I was talking to a CEO the other day he made an interesting analogy I think fits well in this discussion.  During the first internet wave (mid 90’s), it was fascinating how you could sit in a coffee shop in Seattle and somehow find information, communicate and do business with another person in a place like Tokyo.  Borders became irrelevant as the web layered on a communication system that spanned the globe.  Never before in human history had we experienced this phenomenon and it certainly was socially and economically transformational.  But today, do we really care about what is available to us in Tokyo?  More than what’s available in Seattle?  Do we want 1,000 different options displayed on 100 pages to requiring time and attention to sift through?  No, the pendulum seems to be swinging back the other way.  We care about what is going on down the street, in our social circle and in our immediate local surroundings.  We want to be shown what is MOST relevant to us at the moment (and not have to see the rest).

It seems the cycle in Search has followed the same trajectory.  Google broke through because it discovered the very best way to 1) index and organize the web and 2) bring us information matching specific keywords when we searched.  But it’s a different web now.  The problem is there’s just too much information on the web today.  Like, waaaaaaaaay too much.  The major player(s) are struggling to instantly sift out 99.999% of the information in the world so they can provide us the most relevant and useful .001% – our answer.  What they lack is intuition.

For example I live in Seattle and right now I am hungry for pizza, in fact New York Style Pizza, so I choose to do a quick search on Google “New York Style Pizza” to find an viable option.  Observing the image above, it is clear Google is lacking in the contextual department.  Lil’ Frankies and Big Al’s are both pizza joints in New York City!  Amazingly, nothing on the page has anything to do with pizza here in Seattle.  This is not good.  I’m pretty sure my friends on Facebook or even growing local social search platforms such as CrowdBeacon or LOCQL would provide me a New York style pizza option closer than 2,400 miles.  I am aware Google has made strides in localization, but it is not apparent when I quickly use their main search tool.  This simple query illustrates how broken search is at the moment.

It is becoming clear to me, as more  and more information gets created each day, how important our network of social contacts are in bringing us information. More specifically, those two phenomenons are inversely related – as the amount of information grows, the tighter and more important my social contacts become. Why? Because as the amount of information increases we need context and location to help determine relevance. Context can help determine if I am searching for a pizza place in New York or if I am looking for New York style pizza. Location helps define if I am indeed looking for a New York style pizza joint here in Seattle.

Another noteworthy contextual observation is the innate difference between certain search decisions, for instance searching for a clothing retailer versus searching for a restaurant. I would be fine buying a shirt from a distant retailer in New York City. Ordering pizza…? Not so much. Google’s Android DNA doesn’t seem to understand humanoid nuances at all. I guarantee a social search application (powered by my friends) would intuitively understand the contextual and location nuances within my searches.

Understandably, this is freaking Google out and forcing them to push socially awkward applications onto their users at an increasing pace. Unfortunately this is not how social works, you simply cannot rush things on the first date or you will never have the opportunity for a second one. Google+ looks to be their best social offering as of yet, but only time will tell if they have finally aligned the social dots.

It is now clear why Google purchased Aardvark, one of the social search companies I highlighted in my last post. Just read this brief overview and think of how it could help us search:

Aardvark is a way to get quick, quality answers to questions from your extended social network. You can ask questions via an instant message buddy or email. The questions are then farmed out to your contacts (and their contacts) based on what they say they have knowledge of. If you ask taste related questions about music, books, movies, restaurants, etc., they’ll ask people who tend to show similar tastes as you in their profile.

It will be interesting to see how (and if) Google integrates Aardvark to help navigate this new search territory. Regardless of the outcome, I do not think Google will loose its shirt anytime soon. They have a stranglehold on the overall search market and most realize there are many different channels in search. I agree with Semil,”This type of search, or social discovery, will become important, but it won’t dominate search—it’s just one channel, and different social networks exist for different parts of our lives.” 

This is just the beginning of an incredible change in how we will find and use information and I cannot wait to see what emerges. In five years (2016)  we will not be looking at a white screen with blinking cursor begging us to type a few short words into the search vault so it can pull thousand’s of links for us to plow through.

In my next post I will go in-depth on the first of the four quadrants of social search, an area I believe has yet to fully experience this massive technological revolution.

If You have a Website, You Need SkyGlue

SkyGlue is a service that helps you understand what your users are doing on your site.  It works with Google analytics and enables individual user tracking and simplifies Google Analytics event tracking. It automatically tracks links, downloads, form interaction activities, buttons and many more within your Google Analytics reports.  SkyGlue’s patents pending technology is the simplest web event tracking tool currently available on market and one that any website owner needs if they want to increase their traffic.

Eric Huang, founder of Skyglue, says the idea behind SkyGlue came with several iterations to a previous idea.  “Before our current product, our idea was to build a standalone web analytics service for user retention analysis. We developed a prototype and had some beta users. What we found out is that it is very hard to have the users spend time updating their websites to collect data.

SkyGlue is a recent graduate of the startup accelerator Founder Institute.  The FI program is a 4 month long incubator meant to help first time founders get a business established and an initial product into the market.   The process is grueling and only about half of the accepted entrants usually end up fulfilling the requirements and graduating from the Founder Institute.

After completing some market research Huang found most of the high-end web analytics solutions, like Omniture, require consultants to add tags to websites to collect detailed user activity data.  According to Huang,” Using these services is an expensive and time-consuming process.  For small to medium websites, they use Google Analytics, but they usually just use the default pageview tracking setting without tracking those high business value click events, such as form interaction, white paper downloads. If they don’t measure them, they cannot improve them.”

Our goal is to make advanced web analytics extremely simple to use and easy to maintain.  We want to help our customers gain better insights into the behavior of their online users . – Eric Huang, Founder SkyGlue

Huang notes website owners can just use Google Analytics, which is by default only measuring papgeview tracking and basic user segmentation.  But without SkyGlue, their Google Analytics data is not actionable, and thus incomplete.  Google Analytics has event tracking but needs programming APIs and code change (tagging) on all related links and buttons and other items usually needing to be completed by developers.  SkyGlue lets users easily measure high business activities and find ways for improvement all with just embeding a line of code.  The major difference between Google Analytics event tracking API and SkyGlue are shown on this chart below.

It took a while for Huang to find this specific need.  “When I was in the Founder Institute Seattle program I spoke with various mentors and my beta users and it became apparent the idea for making advanced features in Google Analytics easier to use will address a bigger market.”  Eric adds that with SlyGlue, it will also be easier for you to attract more users with spending less money.  In a sense, SkyGlue addresses the pain-point of streamlining advanced web analytics – knowing what users are actually doing on your site.

When you sit with Eric, you get a sense he knows what he is talking about.  Not surprisingly, he has a Ph.D. in computer science from Indiana University – Bloomington with a focus on distributed computing and cloud computing.  After graduating IU, Eric joined Microsoft and became the 1st developer in Azure AppFabric ServiceBus team.  He was one of the key early-stage contributors of Microsoft cloud service from incubation to V1 release.  Prior to that, Eric worked for IBM Research and SONY.

With the current version, SkyGlue can automatically detect and track most website events that are of interest to you.  Individual user activity tracking is automated as well.  They have a good list of beta users that have provided tremendously valuable feedback. SkyGlue is currently in private beta and is looking to expand their user base and will soon implement an initial business model.

It’s free for a limited time, so go here to get SkyGlue for your site.