Readers of a certain age – I’m thinking of those over the age of 30 – will remember a time when it was possible to wonder for days about a simple point of fact. The name, for example, of Nabokov’s first novel (Mary). The year Vanilla Ice released Ice Ice Baby (1990). The opening hours of the local Nike store (various).
That all seems a distant memory. And if you’re young, of course, you don’t even remember a time before Google. Access to the hive mind that is the online space has transformed our lives by ending the isolation that kept us apart from the world’s information.
But recently, a new chapter in this story has begun to emerge. It’s impossible to help the feeling that the way we access the online space has become – how to put it? – a little old-fashioned. Deciding on what it is we want to search for, typing it into a search engine (OK, typing it into Google) and being presented with a list of results: it all feels very 2003, doesn’t it?
Besides, this kind of search is ill suited to the way we’re increasingly using online – on our smartphones in the middle of the street, possibly wearing gloves.
Now, a few start-ups are offering an answer. They’re diverse but their founding proposition is essentially the same: they are search engines that will get to know you, intuit the information that you want at any given time and place and serve it to you before you need to ask. Fewer search results, more search “presults”.
Grokr (www.grokrlabs.com) is among the leaders. An iPhone app, it will extract data including your search history, location, social network and more, and provide presults based on them.
Tailbacks on your usual route to work? Grokr will let you know before you step into the car. In Bur Dubai and passing a restaurant you’ll probably love? A Grokr tile will jump to your screen to tell you that there’s 20 per cent off the noodle salad tonight. In this way, it’s a kind of iPhone version of Google Now, the presults engine currently helping to drive sales of Android smartphones.
Or there’s Nara (www.nara.me), the brainchild of a group of MIT engineers, which bills itself a -“personal discovery engine”. Tell Nara a bit about yourself when you start – the films you like, for example – and it will use that information to suggest other films it thinks you’ll like. When you rate those films a hit or a miss, that information will be incorporated into its machinations to improve subsequent suggestions.
Over the coming years, services such as these – which perform complex operations on vast data sets to offer intelligent suggestions – will transform our online experience.
Soon enough, the days of old-fashioned “searches” will be over. Instead, our behaviours will be analysed and presults offered to us without having to bring fingers to keyboard.
Presults really are a part of the coming revolution powered by Big Data, which will allow us profound new insights into ourselves, our societies and our aggregated behaviours. In the meantime, though, it might just find you the perfect chicken chow mein.
• David Mattin is lead strategist at www.trendwatching.com