Search Needs To Be Reinvented For Mobile

Sometime over the next 12 months, more people will be accessing the web through mobile devices than PCs. Adding that to the time people spend in “apps,” the time people spend computing will overwhelmingly shift towards mobile. We are already seeing leading indicators, like the fact that since late 2010 more mobile devices ship each quarter than PCs. The momentum in this trend is shocking and will change entire industries.

Search is particularly screwed. Because mobile has gone the way of the app, the traditional hyperlinked structure of the web will only shrink in relevancy. Google built its massive business on this older architecture of the web, scouring the relationships between HTML pages via these links to create a ranking algorithm for its search results. What will it do when consumers instead hop from app to app to find 80% of what they need?

Anecdotally, I find myself searching less and less on my mobile devices. First off, the search experience sucks; it has essentially been ported over from web search. Second, I already have apps on my device that represent 80% of anything I’d ever want. Third, if I don’t already have that app, I am more likely to search for the relevant app, download it, and use it to find what I’m looking for.

Search needs to evolve from a paradigm that finds HTML pages to one that finds actual structured data. Furthermore, search needs to contend with vertical silos of information (i.e. apps), extract data from these silos, structure and parse it, maybe mash it back together, and deliver me the thing I’m searching for. A giant “meta search app” should sit on top of my mobile experience and be the predominant way I interface with my mobile device, just as Google was for a decade the way I interfaced with the web.

This new search experience isn’t quite what Paul Graham wrote about the other day as Frighteningly Ambitious Startup Idea #1, but it’s darn close. If you’re building it, I’d love to talk.

This post originally appeared at

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