Stumbling Upon Discovery And Search

Here’s today’s Search Insider. I actually planned to write a new headline for it as this was a half-written working title, but I must have zoned out right before I sent it in. Here’s the column, originally in MediaPost and continuing in the extended entry.

Stumbling Upon Discovery and Search

“It pays to discover” may not just be a slogan; it’s emerging as the maxim for how people find information online.

Last week, right after I released a column on “The Fine Line Between Search and Discovery,”
three reports came out from Radar Networks, StumbleUpon, and ClipBlast
that offer more clues on how search and discovery are converging and
diverging.

The Decline of Search?

The most provocative discussion comes from a TechCrunch post, “Is Keyword Search About to Hit Its Breaking Point?” The post features analysis from Nova Spivack, CEO and founder of Radar Networks, which created Twine, featured in Kaila Colbin’s column
last week. Spivack says that as we move from Web 2.0 (2000-2010) to Web
3.0 and beyond and the volume of data keeps climbing, the productivity
of search starts to decline.

The solution, according to Spivack, is to make the data smarter.
While TechCrunch’s Erick Schonfeld notes that making the data more
intelligent can scale, the reliance on search is still going to
increase, and the engines themselves will need to keep evolving. It’s
not an either/or proposition. A further point comes from the white
paper Google scientists presented in China last week about new image search technology
that doesn’t rely on keywords; Google may move beyond keywords to index
images, but that will lead consumers to search more for images as the
technology becomes more reliable.

Stumbling upon Happiness

TechCrunch’s Schonfeld added to his discovery coverage with his report on StumbleUpon registering its five millionth member.
StumbleUpon allows users to discover new sites, vote on them, and share
them, largely through the use of a toolbar.  It’s also a favorite of
search engine optimization professionals, as it was a hot topic at SMX Social Media last week. StumbleUpon has even spawned imitators, including X-rated content discovery site StumblePorn (the homepage is safe for work, though the rest probably isn’t).

While TechCrunch cites comScore metrics saying unique visitors have
fluctuated wildly over the past six months, the number of times users
have “stumbled” links has continued to steadily climb over the past two
years. In the first quarter of 2008, the number of stumbles reached 974
million, 160% more than Q1 2007’s 375 million. Soon StumbleUpon will
notch its cumulative five billionth stumble.

Schonfeld quotes StumbleUpon founder Garrett Camp’s speech at the
Next Web conference, where Camp said, “Personalized search is just
getting started. I think personalized crawling will start too. Crawlers
now are trying to create the biggest map of the web, but implicit
filtering and intelligent agents-that is where search and discovery
will meet.” What’s most important here is that search and discovery
need to meet.

What you search for is generally different than what you discover.
At StumbleUpon’s video section, “cats” is one of the most popular video
categories. I checked Google Trends,
and it shows that searches for “cat videos” rank on par with “horse
videos” and consistently surpass searches for “Pauly Shore,” but cat
video searches trail “chewing gum” and “euthanasia.” Personalizing the
Web for users based on their cat video viewership isn’t going to be
that meaningful. But, if you can factor in the stumbled cat videos
along with their blog and news readership, their purchase history, and
their search behavior, then you accumulate a thorough portrait of that
user. Given Google’s forays into personalized search and how it lists
queries, pages, and videos related to your Web history if you’re logged in, Google has a tremendous advantage here.

X Marks the Video

Finally, we turn to the results of a ClipBlast study
that enlisted Synovate to survey 1,000 online consumers about how they
access video online. Of those who had a preference, “discovery” ranked
first (28%) followed by recommendations from friends (27%), then search
engines (22%), and then recommendations from people they only know
online (10%). The word-of-mouth distinction seems academic, as a
recommendation from someone I interact with daily on Twitter
holds more weight than one from a college friend I haven’t spoken to in
years. In light of that, I’d count word of mouth collectively trumping
discovery, yet both still handily top search.

This may not be too surprising to long-time readers of this column, as I discussed this in referencing a Digital Hollywood panel
last July. I noted, “With video search, searchers may be more valuable
than browsers or discoverers, but there won’t be as much of a bounty on
consumers who search. With video, publishers want consumers to gorge on
as much content as possible, and automated discovery is the most
efficient way for publishers to hog consumers’ attention.”

More interesting still is that of the 1,000 people surveyed by
ClipBlast, 47% did not express any preference at all for finding
videos. In a press release, ClipBlast founder and CEO Gary Baker said,
“Even with millions of new clips coming online each day, online video
is still in its infancy — and as the survey shows, habits have yet to
be fully formed.”

That’s the fun of exploring the search and discovery interactions
now, when we’re still discovering — or searching for — what resonates
most with consumers.