Content is dead, context is king – what Google did next in search

Ever thought of Google as an animal?

I asked a group of friends this question recently and the answers were predictable and surprising in equal measure. The top 3 were:

  •         A poisonous spider
  •         A many headed hydra, which in Greek mythology had poisonous breath and blood so virulent that even its tracks were deadly
  •         J.A.R.V.I.S, Iron Man’s cybernetic butler.

The first two are dangerous, unfriendly, evil monsters, while the latter is the perfect companion, a well spoken English butler (if you like English butlers that is) who wants to take care of everything for you.

And that is Google in a nutshell; on the one hand evil, manipulative; on the other, friendly, helpful, good to have around.

The image of Google in the genial guise of J.A.R.V.I.S. also got a mention last week by digital search specialist Ian Miller at BrightonSEO. At the event, Miller rolled off recent Google acquisitions (listed below) that confirm to everyone that the search giant aims to be much more than search. It wants to be your friend, your fixer.

But this comes at a price. So Google wants all your data; indeed, it wants all data. It wants to anticipate what we all want before we know we want it. It intends to have everything totally wired, totally connected – from your watch and mobile phone, to your car, your shopping habits, everything in your home and even in the space far above you. No. Really.

Anyone who knows even an inkling about search understands that anticipating what we want is the future, but this anticipation requires vast amounts of data. To understand where all is this going, it’s worth looking at a few of Google’s recent purchases. These include.

  •         Titan Aerospace, a company that makes high-flying solar powered drones. Titan will collect pictures from all over the world, high above the earth.
  •         Skybox Imaging, will work with Titan by building and operating satellites to record high-definition videos several hundred miles up. With Skybox, Miller said that by 2018 Google will be streaming high definition videos from anywhere on the earth. So it will be able to see the world’s trouble spots and disaster zones. It will also see how many ships sail into port, how many trucks dock at a terminal, how many acres of cultivated land a country has. With this tool, Google will be able to calculate a country’s GDP, or predict the price of grain in 12 months.
  •         Behavio, a company that accurately detects the social and behavioural trends of you, your friends, and everyone around you. It will help Google to adapt behaviour patterns into Android devices in mobile phones and in devices around the home.  And Android already has 85% market share of the smartphone market.
  •         DeepMind Technologies, a company that gives computers “corresponding perception capabilities”. With Deepmind, Google is teaching computers how to do things like annotate images and video and be able to describe visual objects.  Google insists “we will be able to make machines that can reason, think and do things better than we can”.

Elsewhere, Google already operates wifi across 7,000 starbucks in the US; 80% of websites use Google analytics; Google chrome has 60% market share and if you watch TV through Chrome Google will know what programmes you like and don’t like. Gmail has 10% market share and Google has access to the data on the emails and understands what people are doing and how they’re using the net (and, more worryingly, talking to each other). Google Shopping Express builds data around people’s small household purchases and will soon know what you want to buy before you’ve bought it.

Soon the entire house will be alive and connected, from your watch to your freezer.

Miller was at pains to point out that none of these acquisitions are simple search acquisitions. Google has shed search in favour of data collection: “It’s about anticipation. Google is supposed to be your cybernetic friend, like J.A.R.V.I.S. It’s a computer that is in the Iron Man suit.”

Why is Google doing this? What does that mean for us? The important word is context. It’s a perfect storm of data. The disruption caused by:

  •          Mobile devices – mobiles can now capture data by emulating three of our five senses, eyes, ears and touch.
  •          Sensors
  •          Social media
  •          Big data
  •          Location-based services

So web search will be contextual search, where people live, their hobbies, what they do at work, what their income is, where they spend their holidays.

Miller ended with a good soundbite, and I quote: “Content is not king, context is king and the content is in the context. It’s contextual, understanding where someone is. Google used to be a technology company funded by advertising, now it’s all about advertising and simply using technology.”

So if you can understand more about what people are trying to do, advertising can be built into that understanding.

Finally, here is an excellent chart listed on Wikipedia of Google’s acquisitions up to September 11. A quick look will illustrate the path that Google is taking with data and context. Be interested, even enthused, but also be slightly concerned.

I only hope that J.A.R.V.I.S  continues to be a genial toff eager to help out around the house rather than a many headed Hydra leading us all along a trail of poisonous ooze.