Ten years ago search engine Alta Vista was the biggest and most awesome ruler of the Internet.
Then something happened. Two research students at Stanford University made what today seems like a pretty small paradigm shift in search: Instead of mainly relying on page-content analysis to rank search results they created a search engine that also takes network structure (e.g. linking) into account when prioritising search results.
On the 14th of September 1997 the domain name Google.com was registered and the rest, as the saying goes, is history.
But it’s not.
Google isn’t going to be forever. They are going to succumb to the same mighty force that put them in their present position: evolution.
As unimaginably as it may seem today it will happen.
And here is why:
In the last 10 years Google have not substantially improved their search algorithm. They may have made a few refinements, but they haven’t been pushing to make yet another paradigm shift in search. A shift that will be necessary to stay ahead of the game. A shift that hundreds of other companies are currently working on and getting closer to delivering.
Thinking about it initially seems strange: A company (Google) that spits out so many innovations on a monthly basis; yet they can’t seem to move their search technology further...
The problem for Google is the following: They have one cash cow: Adwords. But Adwords is reliant on searchers NOT finding what they are looking for in Google
Imagine that Google provided perfect results: They always provided you with a list of the best options for you. Then there would be little or no incentive to click on the advertisements on the search page.
So, the better the Google search results, the less clicking on ads on the right side. Less clicking because there is no need to – the generic results already lists the best options for you. But also less ad-clicking because the better Google’s search results are, the less credible the propositions in the ads are.
In that lies Google’s main problem. If they innovate to stay ahead of the search game – they lower their revenue.
It may be inconceivable but someday in the not too distant future, a site is going to come along that delivers better search results by one or more order of magnitudes. The search results will be so good, that each of us will instantly loose our competitive edge if we don’t use it. It will be a repetition of the Alta Vista-to-Google transition over again. The only difference will be that, due to the extreme connectedness of people today, the switch will be completed in a much shorter period of time.
So what will the next generation search look like? Good question. I have some ideas but honestly – I’m not sure. But I’m sure it will happen. Evolution always catches up.
At Onalytica we recently concluded an analysis of who are influential in the public debate on “innovation” in the UK.
A few results are listed below.
Please contact us if you have an interest in the full report.
Table 1 (below) shows the 25 most influential stakeholders of the topic of “innovation in the UK”
Table 1 (above) also shows the popularity, influence and “relative influence” of each stakeholder.
The DTI (Department of Trade and Industry) is both the most popular and the most influential stakeholder of the issue and both popularity and influence have been indexed to DTI=100.
In general those who have funds to spend on supporting innovation as well as those who are attached to the topic for legal reasons (like UK Patent Office) top the list of influencers.
In short terms, popularity is how many thinks a stakeholder is relevant. Influence is who thinks you are relevant. When measuring popularity each “vote” counts equal, but when measuring influence a stakeholder “votes” with the weight given to her by votes from other stakeholders.
By estimating the typical relationship between influence and popularity on this issue, we have calculated the influence a stakeholder should be expected to have, given their popularity. We then compared this with their actual influence. The result is shown in the column “Rel. Influence”.
So when BBC has Rel. Influence of 88% it means that the BBC has 88% of the actual influence on this issue that their popularity could lead us to believe. In other words they are not quite as influential as they are popular.
CORDIS, MIT and IBM are not UK entities but they are still highly influential in the debate as they are often cited in the context of “Innovation in the UK”.
Notice how Blackwell, a publisher of scientific journals, has substantially more influence than their popularity should warrant. Not entirely counter-intuitive when thinking about how influence is measured. Perhaps those who cite one of Blackwell’s journals in this context, on average, have more influence than those who cite the BBC?
Table 2 (below) shows the 25 most popular stakeholders of the issue with several stakeholders from Table 1 reappearing but in new positions.
Table 3 (below) shows the top 25 “over-influencers”.
These are the stakeholders who have substantially more influence than their popularity should warrant.
Notice that most of them have pretty low popularity. They don’t receive many citations in the analysed context but when they do get cited, they often get cited by very influential stakeholders or by influential stakeholders who cite very few other stakeholders.
Notice the absence of popular media brands.
Table 4 (below) shows the 25 most “under-influential” stakeholders.
These are stakeholders who are very popular on the issue but at the same time have less influence than their popularity should warrant.
Notice that the combined influence of the stakeholders in Table 4 is still substantially bigger than that of the stakeholders in Table 3.
Stakeholders who are generally well-known and very popular on a particular issue tend to become more “under-influential” the bigger they get. It doesn’t mean they get less influential. It simply means they may not be quite as influential as their fantastic popularity on the issue could suggest.
One can also view it as a result of successful brand building. Those stakeholders who have become household brands are more at the forefront of people’s mind, and may therefore more often get cited to substantiate an argument.
One interesting observation we made during this analysis was that the correlation between popularity and influence as stronger and more linear than usual. In our experience this is observed more often with ambiguous topic. (“Innovation” is not a super precise topic. Depending on the context, it can mean different things to different people).
How we did (short version).
We downloaded all documents (that we could identify; including web pages and other documents) freely available online mentioning “innovation” in a UK context. From these documents we extracted all contextual citations (where the author cities someone else). These citations were then counted (to find popularity) and turned to a system of equations to find the influence-equilibrium; fully taking both indirect influence and attention span into account.
© Onalytica, 2007