Search Insider: Ubiquitous Blurbs

In this week’s Search Insider, I expounded on a discussion I had with Cara about the power of search, and thus its future. She says we can’t make any judgments for ourselves anymore since we’re obsessed with what others think (namely, critics, other consumers, peers). I didn’t think this was such a new phenomenon, but Cara convinced me that this holds new meaning in the internet era.

You can find the column on MediaPost’s new Search Insider blog.

Ubiquitous Blurbs: The Future of Search

A CONVERSATION, PARTLY VERBATIM AND
mostly imagined, with Cara, this week’s guest Insider:

Cara: You should do a column on how no one makes up their
own mind about anything anymore, and how everyone relies on what everyone else
says first.

David: I’m not sure I agree with the premise. This
obsession with what others say isn’t particularly new. Consumer Reports
launched in 1936, Roger Ebert started as a film critic in 1967, and the Zagat
Survey came out in 1979.

C: Sure, but the Internet has made it all easier to access.
Before anyone goes anywhere or does anything or buys anything, they go online,
search for reviews, and base their decision on what someone or everyone else is
saying.

D: Yes, but that doesn’t mean the concept’s new. It just
means the information is more prevalent and accessible.

C: But that’s the whole basis of what you’re writing about.
That’s like saying you won’t write about local search because the first Yellow
Pages directory appeared in 1886. The accessibility of information has led to an
obsession. Just with the two of us, how many times do we determine what or where
we’ll eat, what shows we’ll see, or what trips we’ll take based on reviews? At
HopStop.com,, even the subway lines are rated.

D: You caught me. But since you’re the one convinced I
should write a column about this, then I’ll leave it to you to flesh out the
idea. What’s the impact on marketers?

C: Marketers will only be as successful as what others say
about them. The difference is that now anyone can get on a pedestal and offer
their opinion. Look at the purchases you’ve made lately.

D: Many were impulse buys, like when I went on a book
shopping spree one night. Several were books I’d never heard of by authors I’ve
never encountered.

C: So how did you choose them?

D: By reading what the critics said on the book jackets.
Still, shopping in a store isn’t search, is it? And reviews on book jackets are
nothing new.

C: Since when do you take everything so literally? Imagine
walking down the block and the same reviews you see on books are on every place
of business–every restaurant, doctor’s office, hair salon, retailer, drugstore,
and everything else. This is already happening, thanks to the proliferation of
mobile devices and services.

D: I see where you’re going with this…

C: Let’s start with a service business, such as a hair
salon, or a barbershop, for your purposes. On your mobile device, there are a
dozen reviews–nine glowing, three excoriating. You don’t like the one-in-four
odds that you’d get a bad haircut, so you hit the search button and find five
other barbers in the area, three with an 85 percent approval rating or better,
and two in your price range. You choose the slightly pricier one since it also
has the higher rating, ruling out the designer salon that’s the best reviewed
but way over budget. Those book jacket write-ups are now plainly visible for
that barbershop.

D: Except unlike the book publisher, the barber doesn’t
have control over the reviews. And there’s much more relevant information
available, updated instantly.

C: You’re catching on. Next, you walk into an electronics
store for a new set of headphones. Your mobile device gives you reviews from
"experts" and consumers, and then you run a search to see prices at every other
retailer within half a mile, as well as online. You want them now, so you pay $5
more to take them with you.

D: You can do this today, even if it’s not quite so
seamless.

C: It’s getting there. After your haircut and shopping,
you’re starving. Just walking down the block, you get the reviews and average
prices for every restaurant nearby. Alongside the main listings, you spot an ad
for an organic Indian restaurant around the corner that you didn’t know was
there, and the reviews entice you. Walking in, [you see] it’s deserted, but
supposedly it has the best tikka masala in the neighborhood. You scan the menu,
going for a Taj Mahal beer and a couple of highly rated appetizers.

D: There’s a trade-off here. I’ve gone for all the best
reviewed items, but I’m losing the capacity to try for myself.

C: Yes, but you might not have gone into that Indian
restaurant at all if not for the reviews. And you tried a goat dish that you
would have completely overlooked.

D: But I haven’t made a single decision on my own. Every
decision was determined by search, by mobile marketing, by word of mouth.

C: But the quality of the decisions you made improved. You
came out with a great haircut, found a new favorite restaurant, and with those
noise-canceling headphones, you can’t hear your colleague gloat about the latest
Yankees win even with half their starters injured.

D: And it’s all because of search.

C:I thought you said this had nothing to do with search.

D: I give up. We really have no clue yet just how much
power search will have over us, do we?

C: What do you mean "we"?