The number of factual arguments at our dinner table that end with “just Google it” is very high.
“Google is seen as a kind of oracle,” Ian Harris, CEO and founder of Search Laboratory, said. “When you type in a question to a search engine you almost always take the first results as gospel, so it’s not surprising to see that we as a nation trust it more than our friends and family.” Ian’s nation is Scotland, but my bet is that this statement is as true, if not more true here in the United States.
As I reflect on this fact, I’m not sure I’m proud. It is a fact, regardless. And the headlines from London this morning read, “Google kills pub debate.” My initial response to the person who shared it was this, “It doesn’t kill opinion debate.” Opinions are often not based on facts. My opinion that Pete Rose is the greatest baseball player of all time won’t be settled by someone spouting off facts they find on Google about some other baseball player. It’s my opinion.
Factual debates are kind of silly anyway, so killing them off is not a great loss in my opinion. Sure, there’s a certain level of camaraderie that can come from a disagreement with your friends at a bar over what year Van Halen’s 5150 was released, but is that really a “debate.” I don’t think so. I googled “what is a debate?” just to be sure. I think my previous statement may be an opinion. THAT we could debate.
What is an oracle?
“The word oracle comes from the Latin verb ōrāre “to speak” and properly refers to the priest or priestess uttering the prediction.” I Googled that, of course. People visited oracles to listen to prophecies, to gain insight into the future. It’s a human curiosity that has never waned.
So, today, Google is not truly an oracle. They are leading the way in the predictive analytics movement, however. And when you read the notes from Google’s recent earnings call you get a sense for where they are headed and what level of oracle-like prediction they are working towards.
“I’ve had firm belief and I continue to hold on to it that I believe in the medium to long term, mobile pricing has to be better than desktop pricing,” Nikesh Arora, Google’s SVP and Chief Business Officer said. “And I think the reason — the way to think about it is that in mobile you have location and you have context of individuals which you don’t have on the desktop. And the more you known about the user and their context, the more effective advertising you can provide to them. The better the conversion is likely to be for a search or any piece of advertising that you do. There’s a whole bunch of building blocks that need to come into play for us like you said to get the gap to close.”
Google has a profit motivation for putting the pieces together to be able to be more predictive about what we’re really seeking. “The good news is a lot of people are spending a lot of time on mobile devices,” he continued. “There’s a lot of mobile search queries that we get. People are more and more focused about what they look for in mobile devices. They are closer to intent. They are closer to transaction.” This, from an advertising and marketing perspective is a good thing.
And he is right. We are willingly feeding Google every question we have. And Google keeps getting better and better at understanding context. And context matters a great deal. Even from my desktop, if I ask Google, “where is a great Italian restaurant?” it knows where I’m at based on how I’m connected and returns results for great Italian restaurants in Santa Clarita. This, in and of itself, is a level of prediction. And it is going to get better.
This is a hot topic right now in the real estate space.
Last year, the National Association of REALTORS® announced that they were creating a predictive analytics group and named Todd Carpenter to lead it. I’ve had more than a few discussions with Todd about this and I can tell you firsthand that he is focused and passionate about this space. He spoke a bit about it with Inman News in this video.
“The apps are going to get smarter and know not only what you like, but where you are, and whether you have spare time. Maybe (an app will) realize you’re at lunch because you just checked in on Foursquare, maybe you have time to look at a house,” Carpenter says. “Consumers are going to have this stuff fed to them in a simple way — I think that’s going to affect real estate agents and their response times.” And he’s not alone in his opinions about the impact this will have on real estate.
I predict our predictive future is closer than we think and that Google and others will get scary good at it. Why? Because we are willing to share everything. Where we are. Where we’re going. What we like and don’t like. An article this morning about watching the Internet get high on 4/2o seems to nail it. Predictive analytics will be scary good, “because nobody has any common sense about what they post on social media.”
“So like right now we can lead the horse to the water, we can’t make it drink,” Arora said of their current abilities at Google. Google’d desire is to be able to predict when we want a drink and not only lead us to the water, but track which brand we bought. And then lead us to it again. Or to something an advertiser thinks we might like better.
In the end, that may make them more powerful than the oracles of classical antiquity.
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Featured Image: John William Waterhouse [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons (I Googled it.)