Search Platform, Operating System
There has been a lot of talk lately about search engines like Google launching their own branded operating system. While such a system doesn’t necessarily correspond with Google’s vision of making the world’s information universally accessible, it could be a consideration in that plan. Search as a platform unto itself.
While I would hope that one day I could run a Google branded OS that connects instantly to the web to do everything I typically do in a day, I don’t see such a scenario any time soon. That is because there is still much innovation required for this to happen.
For example, if I use 3 different computers daily – say a work computer, a home computer and a laptop – I am presented with 3 different hardware configurations all running different applications. Some people even use other hardware like cell phones and PDAs to browse the web, throwing even more complexity into the mix.
Granted, Google is best known for running it’s data centers initially on a variety of hardware so that isn’t really an issue. The major issues come down to the software used on the different systems.
For example, at work I used a Windows based computer with Microsoft Office and Internet Explorer. However at home I run a Linux based desktop with OpenOffice and Firefox as my browser. Right away there are issues with interoperability between the two systems. Granted there are ways around this, but I’ll let Google worry about this.
But with the current state of the web, we really aren’t that far from some sort of hybrid system where we have a desktop which connects us to a variety of web based applications. In fact we use many of these applications right now.
This is why I like to look at modern search engines as platforms rather than operating systems. I also think this line between platform an OS is going to continue to blur over time.
I consider them platforms because they are taking more and more off the desktop and making them available on the web, regardless of the operating system you use.
Take Gmail – it’s an industrial strength email application that’s years ahead of its predecessors like Hotmail. Yahoo! Mail realizes this and has taken steps to improve it’s offering, making it appear more like a web based Exchange server, and Microsoft is also revamping Hotmail similarly. Plus, all the major email providers have improved spam filtering and increased storage.
But it doesn’t stop there.
Using Yahoo! for example, I can schedule appointments on a web based calendar and even share it with others. I’m sure the others will be offering similar functionality in the near future. But it goes beyond webmail, calendaring, shopping, and mapping.
Search engines are beginning to realize that search can be consolidated into almost all our electronic work.
Microsoft has begun integrating more web search into it’s desktop applications, such as Word and Excel. Now when you search with them you no longer get just help file results, it also goes to the web and returns results off other Microsoft sites.
When you perform a desktop search with any of the major desktop search applications, they too also integrate local results with web results.
But what else can this “search as a platform” mean to us – the search consumer?
Well, it should mean more search centric products, in other words, products that integrate searching into them. We will also have more choice in the type of product. There are many (unexplored) ways to get search (and of course advertising) onto the screens of users, whether they are using a search engine or not and searching from their desktop or not.
Take instant messaging, for example. One of the most used applications in the under 20 crowd, yet its advertising potential remains virtually untapped. MSN has a search box on MSN Messenger now, but that is a fairly recent addition, and they have virtually no way to monetize the product other than the odd ad they serve on it.
Similarly, Google IM has no ads (yet) but I wouldn’t be surprised to see small text links appear on it in the future as well.
Just take a minute to think of all the activities you partake in online. Imagine these integrating with search (if they don’t already) and you begin to get an idea of how search will become the backbone of all our online activities. From browsing your TV listings, to planning your next meal.
It makes sense really. With the web growing as quickly as it does, search becomes not the means to an end, but the means to navigate all that free information.
We know already that search is not a linear process. If you think of it, try and remember the steps it takes you to get to your next search result. You will likely find that your process isn’t “search, scan, click.” It’s more like “search, scan, click, back button, click, back button, refine, scan, click…..” and so on.
We have become so accustomed to using search engines to navigate the web that we will become more used to seeing search in all our online activities. Hence search engines move from the gateway to the web to the platform which integrates us into the web.
A Google OS? Sure it’s a possibility. And as I said we are already seeing more and more integration between applications, our use of these applications and search, so by the time Google does release an OS we will realize then that we’ve been using such a system for some time already. The OS will really only be a way to tie all the Google web based applications together on the desktop.
And that’s what an OS is really – a program that manages our access to other programs.
Columnist Rob Sullivan is an SEO Specialist and Internet Marketing Consultant at Text Link Brokers