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Think Like a Search Engine – APIs & User Control


There are two powers I feel are essential to unlocking the future of relevance in digital marketing.  

1) The power of user control

2) The power of information correlations

This is not new. You may have noticed the past few months that I keep referencing Google in my writing and presentations on this subject. This is because search has always best exemplified the relevance that can be delivered with a marriage of content and control. We can learn so much from what has made search successful.

Google Search is after all a product. Maybe the greatest product ever created because it’s free to users yet its value to publishers and advertisers is of epic and ever growing importance. It’s also no accident that the success is due to the fact that Google is an information product. Or that delivery of its information is controlled by user inputs and self-selection.

Information also happens to be the most valuable asset in a market driven economy. Information powers decisions. Information powers persuasion. Information, as Ogilvy said, is what advertising should be about.

One challenge in digital media the past decade has been creating alternate information discovery and recovery solutions in channels outside of search. Summize (now Twitter Search) is a great example of a recent product that got it right. The value of information is not in publishing it but in the distribution and discovery of it.

In my opinion Twitter Search is a far more powerful app than even Twitter itself -- though one wouldn’t be possible without the other -- and that’s the point. Site search platforms like Endeca and targeted content delivery systems like richrelevance also push the needle ahead. Surely YouTube and Facebook are as much about searching as anything else. The last vestige seems to be display advertising. I know we're making progress there as well.

Herbert Simon said (back in 1971!!!) that “a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention,” and that we “need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.”

APIs can do exactly that! They provide us the tools to improve how we allocate information and attention efficiently. APIs allow us to rethink when, where and how we discover and recover information. But in doing so APIs also cry out for us to start thinking like a search engine -- if for no other reason than because no one has solved Simon’s poverty of attention problem better than Search.

Search, because of its user controls and high degrees of relevance delivery has conditioned us in how we want and need to have information delivered. APIs can benefit from the fact that even when people are not actively doing a search they always have primary, secondary and latent goals in their mind as they surf the web.

Aristotle understood that no matter what he said, relevance was the divine provenance of the listener. As marketers and advertisers we would be wise to heed his wisdom. Now we have the technology to do it – anywhere on the web.


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Jonathan, I agree with your sentiments. But you might want to check that quotation--pretty sure it's from Herb Simon.

Thanks Daniel. You are correct! Not sure where I got mixed up - I've referenced that quote for sometime.


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