The last few weeks have been relatively crazy for me and, between newsletters and conferences, I did not get much time for blogging… Today however, I feel like I have read one article too many about a problem that I thought would never affect me.
This problem is the importance of search engines or, rather, the seemingly overwhelming importance they had in the past weeks. Since Microsoft announced their intention to add better search capabilities to Longhorn, companies are fighting to get the best, fastest, most accurate search technology ever.
Whether it is on the web or on the computer, there seems to be a new software tool for every purpose. I can now throw my e-mail in a gigantic mailbox, save my files on any location on my hard drive and get rid of my internet bookmarks – did I mention forget about keeping track of my music or picture library? Indeed, it does not matter how messy and disorganized I am, there will always be a service or a tool that I can use to get my information back.
Need to archive these Summer 2004 pictures you took? Simply throw them with your accounting spreadsheets and cookie recipes, Spotlight will get them back for you. Need to find your bank website? Why don’t you just Google for it? These tools work, after all, and work very well! Since search is now such an important piece in the never ending marketing battle between software companies, we can enjoy some of the best algorithms around and can truly hope to grab information that was previously unavailable for us, simply because we could not see it.
Unfortunately, this worries me a lot… Don’t get me wrong, I’m very glad that all these technologies exist and I find some of them truly amazing – Spotlight, for example, is stunning. What worries me is how ready we are to let others organize our lives and our information, this information that we think is so precious that we want to grasp it all and keep it constantly under control.
Indeed, if we stop organizing by ourselves and rely on a third-party (whether it is a company or an open source project) to tell us what we know and what we have, we become dependent on them and on their technology. And, since we are just pushed to be lazy, the phenomenon is expanding at frightening speeds – “Frankly, who wants to spend Christmas afternoon finding folders?” ;-).
Imagine for one second that GMail were to be discontinued or that Spotlight would become an expensive, subscription-based technology – this is pure theory here, of course. Would you then be able to re-organize your mails or your files? And how much time would it take before you would be able to access all your information again?
Of course, these technologies can be used in a positive way, as long as they help us refer and link dynamically content that we already master – which, interestingly, is the idea that seems to have started this trend. I’m all for being able to know at a glance who is linked (in any possible way) to an article I have on my hard drive. Give me more Google, more Spotlight… However, I still want to be able to keep track of it manually if the need arose one day and I’d much rather work on a stable, static system with no search capabilities whatsoever than constantly type queries in search boxes.
And you, what do you think of these search technologies?