The Reinvention of Search

I’ve been paying attention to words a lot more lately, probably as a result of my newfound addiction to Scrabulous on Facebook. See, my friends aren’t mindlessly passing time by playing multiple games at once; competitive attitudes rein supreme. It feels like with each passing game, one of my opponents (they really aren’t considered friends during game play) slaps down a word that causes me to pause for a minute, as I mentally test out the latest move in a sentence.

I recently rolled around “reinvention,” created off my original move, “invent,” for a good five minutes. No, I didn’t need a definition or to double-check the proper spelling. It just seemed to sum up something that I’ve been thinking about since stumbling home from Vegas a few weeks ago, after the annual Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA) wireless trade show.

This past CTIA show seemed to lack big announcements or really newsworthy news, unless you count Richard Branson’s April Fools joke, which illustrates how gullible we all are about anything that involves Google. (He was able to convince a large handful of folks they had the opportunity to sign up to take part in an ark (as in Noah’s) type space deployment to Mars, animals and all.) Instead, there were pockets of items to note and pretty devices to look at, but nothing that was really exciting.

Looking back at the articles I tagged to over the course of the trade show, I saw a theme present itself: search was experiencing a little reinvention of its own.

Two new mobile search products surfaced during the first few days of April: Yahoo’s voice-activated search service, oneSearch, and’s TextBuyIt service. The significance didn’t really dawn on me until the incessant noise from the slot machines started to fade from my head.

I caught Yahoo’s live product demo on the showroom floor. The beauty of oneSearch comes in the core value proposition to the end user. There are no excuses when all you have to do is hold a button and speak. Not only does it align perfectly with what mobile users search for most often — directions — it also makes exploring and navigating a new city easy as pie (something I appreciated when it helped me leave the strip and cross the highway into the drive-through of In-N-Out). The service is currently only available for BlackBerry devices, but it’s due to hit a wider range of phones by the end of the summer.

Amazon’s news further exhibits its push over the last year or so to develop mobile tools and applications for its loyal customer base. TextBuyIt is a new service that allows consumers to text a product, UPC or ISBN, or search term to the short code “Amazon” (262966). In return, they receive a list of products that match the original search, each with a unique item number. Through a series of steps that capitalize on the information Amazon has stored in their user profiles, consumers can purchase the desired product. This takes impulse buying to the next level, if you ask me.

I’ve pontificated before about the power mobile search has to alter the way we navigate our physical environment. These two announcements add credence to that thinking. Services offerings like oneSearch and TextBuyIt are changing the game and reinventing the face of mobile search. More important, they underscore the need of every big brand and retail outlet to rethink their search strategy to include mobile and location-based applications. These services, from finding the closest location to walking out with or without a purchase, and those that grow out of them, will eventually alter the way consumers shop big-box retail.

Consider this: the Amazon TextBuyIt announcements used the example of skipping the long merchandise line at a concert to purchase the band’s CD by simply texting Amazon’s short code, but a larger point was overlooked. This service now allows consumers to skip the same long lines at big-box retail stores. Competition is no longer just other physical stores or the Web, it’s also the one device almost all consumers have in their pocket today.

This opens the door for other mobile applications to play a role in making store shelves work harder in the future (think 2-D scanable codes or mobile wallet applications). But that’s a story for another day.

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