Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Searching for a happy accident


Today’s news that ITV has bought Friends Reunited for £120 million just illustrates the enormous appeal of applications that do what people want most – social networking. Friends Reunited has 15 million members in the UK and my (admittedly narrow) sample suggests that interest isn’t restricted to a particular age group – if you're 20 or over you're likely to be interested.

Friends Reunited began very small – a bit like Google, which is now being described as the fastest growing business of all time. Like Friends Reunited, Google delivers what people want. It structures many people’s experience of the Internet. In the UK there are 17 million users per month.

Trying to understand how Search Engines work, I realized the role played by advertising. To its credit, Google shows search listings that are paid for. Google AdWords appear in a separate section down the right side of the screen. Advertisers bid on keywords, and the more an advertiser is willing to pay the higher it will appear in the list of adverts served.

This site explains that “when a Google spider, or bot, finds your site a number of things are taken into consideration. Not only does this spider search through the content and links on your page, cataloging keywords, page titles and descriptions, backward links, and meta tags as it goes along, it even looks through your whois information. Whois information is the information provided through your hosting company on who exactly owns the website, including name, telephone number, email address, physical address, how long your site is registered for, and more.” Wow!

Search engines of the future may look very different. One version works a bit like Amazon – your search engine gets to know what you like and delivers a personalized service. Other possibilities include multimedia searching and, yes, SMS searches! But let’s not forget the happy accident (like my nightcruiser pic) that gets good, if unexpected, results from time to time.

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