The end of search and the advent of the non benevolent assistance

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During the latest Ecommerce 1 to 1 fair in Monaco, Google caused a stir by announcing the end of search as we know it and the advent of the assistance era.

This is consistent with my idea that, with cognitive technologies, we’re moving from attention marketing to intention marketing. In other words that instead of capturing (even stealing) people’s attention, brands will understand the need and come up with a solution.

Towards attention marketing

Concretely, as we’re talking about search engines, we used to search about our needs, the engine provided links to pages where we could find information we had to sort and articulate to build the response, find a solution. Tomorrow we’ll ask a question in natural language and the engine will issue an answer. For example, instead of searching for a vacation sport when one can both go to the beach and visit cultural venues, then find hotels and flights, we’ll say “I want to spent 15 days in a place where I can both rest and visit, not too warm, not too cold” and the engine will suggest a destination, flights, hotels, things to do and the ability to book everything in one click.

That’s exactly what Google has in mind when talking about the assistance era.

That’s very close to what The North Face is doing with IBM Watson, but at the scale of the web.

When influence is hiding behind assistance

When it comes to search engines we must be aware of the possible biases. Contrary to what many people think, Google does not provides us with the best results, the more relevant to us. Google provides us with the results that are the most relevant to…Google. And so do Yahoo !, Bing and. We see the world through their eyes but never as it is.

At the beginning the difference between two engines was relevance. “The world according to….” was depending on how each engines was measuring the relevance of a content about a matter and translated it into algorithms.

Then came sponsored results. Buy paying Google one can reach the top of the result page. It’s transparent, it’s mentioned, so the user knows why this result appears.

Now imagine that you use a conversational interface instead of the engine as you know it. An interface that will understand your need by interacting and discussing with you.

Will the results be influenced by the brands that pay ? Certainly.

Will it still be transparent for the consumer ? Surely not. By hiding the search mechanism from the consumer’s yes, the engine will also hide all the options considered as less relevant and it will become harder to understand why one is proposed such or such thing.

What’s good on a e-commerce site is not always good at the web’s scale

So let’s come back to the North Face case. I don’t care if their internal search engine is under influence. I assume that when I’m on the North Face site they’ll try to sell me their products.

But if we apply the same method at the web’s scale, will the assistant suggest me the products and brands that are the best for me or for Google ? We know the answer. Will it be transparent ? I think it will be far less transparent than before.

There is a high chance that consumers will shift from being more and more informed to more and more influenced or manipulated. Will engine implement these technologies ethically ? We’ll see.

Photo Credit : Fotolia