Wake Up and Smell the Curation

In a very short period of time, it appears that it has become acceptable to say in public what was formerly only whispered in darkened rooms, to wit: Google search isn't cutting it anymore. One great example of the genre can be found here:

Boil the criticism down to its essence, and what is being said is that the Google search algorithm has been thoroughly steamrolled by big merchants and spammers with powerful SEO capabilities, pushing themselves into the important early search results and making it much harder to find what you are looking for. The junk -- that Google in its early days did such a stellar job filtering out -- is back.

There are some who believe it is only a matter of time until Google re-engineers its search algorithm, and then all these problems will magically go away. More people seem to believe that this problem is big, profound and permanent.

Consider too the much-publicized statistic from marketing firm iProspect: the typical knowledge worker spends 16 hours a month searching for information and 50 percent of all those searches fail. More evidence that when it comes to search, something is broken.

Intriguingly, the solution being advanced by many is curation: some more active type of selection that isn't totally driven by algorithms. At one extreme, it is hand-assembled lists. At the other extreme, we have the concept of the "social graph," the concept that search results can be driven by what your friends and colleagues like and recommend.

Of course, right in the middle of that continuum sits a group we all know and love: data publishers. What data publishers do, by definition, is curate: they collect, classify and arrange information to make it more useful.

The majority of data publishers have spent years now trying to prove to themselves, their subscribers and their advertisers where they fit in the world of search, and why they still matter. Intriguingly, there is a growing belief that the general search engines, who believed they could do everything and do it better, are actually finding hard limits to their ambitions. And that puts new importance on information providers who cover an area particularly well and make that information easily accessible. Think data publishers.

This does not mean that Google is going to go away. But it is likely to be a very different company, especially given its rapid diversification into so many non-search businesses. Perhaps Google itself woke up and smelled the coffee and now sees the limits of general search?