I’ve seen the new face of Search, and it ain’t Google.

I’ve seen the new face of Search, and it ain’t Google. What is it you ask?

It is a Text message.

Wait, what? A text message?! Alex, this really makes no sense?! Ah, but it does. Read on, and you will see why…

The Rise of Mobile

The rapid rise of mobile is wiping out desktop. At least for consumers, their phones have become the way they experience internet. Mobile is not the new web, it is the only web. And it is very different.

Mobile is beautiful precisely because it affords so little. It already gave us the simplicity of scroll, and the swipe, but its biggest gift to us, a whole new way to search is just around the corner.

The Google Standard

We are so used to Google search, its interface and format, that we rarely question it these days. After all, it always gives us the answer, right? Whatever thing you are looking for, just type it into browser bar (you don’t even need to go to Google.com) and voila — 10 links, or so called the answer.

But why is it 10 links, and how can an answer to every single question be found in 10 links?

Imagine if in real life, someone would ask you a question, and your reply would be — here, the answer would be inside these 10 links. Absurd!

When people talk to each other, they arrive at “the answer” by means of a conversation. I ask you a question, you reply, you clarify, I might follow up, and then you reply again.

A question in real life is a conversation that leads to an answer.

The Text Messaging

The email has long being hailed to be the killer app for the web, but on mobile there is a new king. It is Text Messaging, and we are all addicted to it. We love the form, we love the speed, we love our emoji.

Lets face it, the feeling that we get when typing a text message, that silly, quick, fun and instantly gratifying thing, is the feeling we never had typing on regular computer keyboard.

Email is always work, text messaging is aways fun.

But beneath all the fun and emoji silliness we’ve been evolving something groundbreaking and profound. We’ve created a simple format for quick conversations. We created a new way to ask questions, and receive an answer via computer that is a lot closer to how people do it in real life.

By using Text Messaging, we have been playing an iterative Q&A game. And this is a pretty big deal.

Enter the New Kind of Search

Now imagine, that instead of Google text field or browser bar, you get a familiar Text Messaging interface and you can ask questions. Here is what happens next:

1. You will ask questions in the natural form, like you do in real life.

2. Your questions will be naturally compact, because you are used to compact form of text messaging, but they won’t be one word or one phrase like we type into Google. You still can have typos, and missing punctuation.

3. This format naturally lends itself onto the conversation. That is, you don’t expect 10 links, you expect a human response. And you expect to respond in response to this response, and so on – that is, you expect a conversation.

4. ‘The answer’ will be things / objects / places, and links will become secondary. The answer will be 1 or 2 or 3 things but not 10 things. The choice will be naturally added via a conversation and iteration, not by pushing 10 links on the user upfront.

5. You won’t be able to tell the difference between a person or machine replying to you. This is where all the amazing AI stuff (looking at you, Amy) is going to come handy and will really shine.

6. You won’t think of this as search anymore, but as your command and control for all things you need – tasks, purchases and of course good old search. It will be like Siri, except it will be based on text, and have a lot more capabilities. And it will actually work great. (No offense Siri, but you have ways to go).

Once this new world order is in place, you will quickly forget how Google worked. Phrase based search and 10 links will become the things of the past. You will quickly get used to, and will love, the human way to search. Via a Text Message.

For early hints of what is to come, check out Magic, Sensay and Cloe.

Credit: Ryan Hoover (@rrhoover) interacting with Cloe.

What do you think? Do you believe that Search will stay the same on Mobile or change?

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Alex Iskold View All →

Engineer, Immigrant. Vegan. 3x Founder, Managing Partner @2048vc. Previously ran @techstars in NYC. I write #startuphacks: http://alexiskold.net .

38 Comments Leave a comment

  1. That’s great except there are 5453 people in front of me – how are they going to fix this problem -(for free)


  2. Alexiscold…. I love the idea. I would love to be a part of this. this is going to be super fun. let me know if i can be a part of this new revolution.


  3. Well… I present to you Google Now, it is exactly that:

    forget about links, people, places, times etc, there’s knowledge graph to translate those into workable objects for the APIs behind it.

    And there is the Google Now UX to to be your interface into the knowledge graph, with cards that display 1 or 2 answers for your requests.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t have a ton of experience with Google Now, but from what I know, the interface is not quite the same and it is not like a conversation, is it?


  4. I think of search in 2 areas, navigation vs. discovery. That is, finding the best mexican restaurant in DC vs getting to the website for a specific restaurant and making a reservation. This definitely covers the discovery portion of things, but what about just plain old navigating there? Is messaging the best way to do that? I’m not sure myself..


  5. Its a nice however I don’t think text messages are rich enough and search is not accurate enough to become the standard way of searching on mobile. For some applications it makes sense though where results are finite – e.g. asking for an address, checking sports scores, weather, stock prices etc.


  6. Alex, what you describe is pretty much Google Now. And it’s already years old.
    The only difference is, that it does not try to imitate being a human. I think it is a matter of taste.
    Personally, I am not sure, I want to chat with an AI the same way I want with a human being. I want it to be efficient, and fast, giving me enough info to decide on my own. But nothing like in your first example, where the search engine says “one of my favorite….”


  7. I think this is part of the future of search, but it’s just an interim future. The real future is voice, because the device won’t be your mobile phone; it’ll be your watch, your glasses, other wearables.

    95% of smart devices coming online in the next 3 years will have a mic but no keyboard. And the natural language search you’re describing makes tons of sense, but that’s because it’s how we speak.

    Try texting “what’s that sushi place on fillmore that has really good smoked salmon?” Now try speaking it. It’s easier and faster, so by default, it’s where the user wants to head.

    Granted, some searches need to be private, so natural language text queries could work for those, but most are benign and we just want the answer ASAP. Voice is far more natural for those.


  8. “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” – Albert Einstein

    So, a better search engine is not a search engine at all. Happy our conversations (pun intended) and demoing Sensay shaped your thinking above, Alex.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Ariel! I increasingly in the camp on non-social / distributed solution to this, where there is a mix of AI and specialized humans. But I will be of course watching you guys closely.


  9. I agree that voice will ultimately be the most used, but try to get SIRI to tell you where Tuktoyartuk is. Have fun. 😛


    • That’s probably still true at the moment that SIRI will have a problem with that query, but no question the results will be far closer than they were just six months ago.

      Experts in voice rec are predicting that within just 18 months, we’ll see software that can understand human speech better than we can–more vocabulary, better ability to pick out words in background noise.

      So we may not be there yet, but we’re close enough that it’s time to start planning around voice interfaces.


  10. I agree that voice will ultimately be the most used, but try asking SIRI where Tuktoyaktuk is. Have fun. 😛


    • Dylan, glad that it helped trigger the post, its great. The key thing that clicked in my head is simplicity, familiarity and form factor of messaging on mobile. In a lot of ways, it may chart the path of Twitter — people will use it as a platform to build more and more things. I have a few follow up ideas on how it might unfold, happy to share with you offline.


  11. Hello Alex,

    I really enjoyed your post. In my opinion, Cloe and Magic are a bit too far ahead and will have difficulty in scaling their current setup. Take a look a Digit, an automated savings company that uses command based messaging, and Invisible Boyfriend. Invisible Boyfriend is particularly interesting because of the way messages are distributed to a team on Mechanical Turk and Fivrr. Very scalable model for message response.

    I think traditional search will become less important then relationship based search, but instead relationships will be with large brands that can handle specific request. So if you are interested in flights, Hipmunk will be a contact in your phone and you will just chat them. If you need clothes, Macy’s will be a contact you can text to see if they have deals or clothing in your size.

    As a bit of background I work for Waterfall, a mobile messaging and CRM company so I follow lots of different text messaging based programs. Let me know if you ever want to discuss how texting will be evolving over the next few years.


    • Thanks for the comment Sam and glad you enjoyed the post. I will check out the services you mentioned as I am not as familiar with them. Is Invisible Boyfriend more like Sensay – distributed to a network of potential responders?


  12. I disagree that voice is the future of search.

    Firstly, have a look at the current Voice Call vs SMS stats. Users are quite happy to tap away at their devices and not everyone wants to blether away in public either.

    Incidentally, many, many people go all day saying less than 2,000 words in total – what they do utter is brief, in context and usually in shortform (professional or tribal) – AI has no hope.

    Secondly, the voice recognition software as it stands right now, doesn’t understand accents outside of mainstream west coats americanese – useless for the rest of the world.

    The biggest hair in the soup is context as alluded to here:


    Without context, the technology is dead in the water.


  13. “…the answer would be inside these 10 links. Absurd!” Let’s not underestimate the value of diversity of information. Asking someone a question, getting one answer, and accepting it as truth is the most *convenient* way of getting an answer, but it’s one of the worst ways to get good information. Imagine if every student accepted the teacher’s word as gospel. We wouldn’t have debate or progress, let alone entrepreneurs.

    While you may be right that text is an excellent UI/medium for delivering information on a mobile device, I for one don’t want a world in which I’m expected to accept one point of view as “the answer.” Can we get a text to send me many possible answers?

    Liked by 1 person