Google vs. Siri: How conversational search will change online search engines

One day kids will not be able to tell you what a "card catalog" is, and it might be sooner than later.

One day kids will not be able to tell you what a “card catalog” is, and it might be sooner than later.

Long, long ago, in a land, far, far away people used to search for information in something called a library, using books and card catalogs and something cutting edge known as microfiche. Ask a Gen Xer about it sometime and listen to them wax poetic about their days hanging in library carrels with stacks of books, but watch it, or they will get off topic and start in on their album collections and how caller id ruined prank phone calls.

Today, the vast majority of us conduct all our research, from where to go for the best fish tacos to how to get help writing that research paper, through the Internet, and, most likely, our search engine of choice is Google. The company is so dominant that “googling” was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2006 as a verb meaning to find information. But nobody stays on top forever, and Google’s reign may come to an end sooner, rather than later, if Apple and conversational search technology has anything to say about it. Sit back and learn why the two tech powerhouses are gearing up for an epic online battle—aka Google vs. Siri.

What is conversational search?

Conversational search (or abstract search or latent search) may just be the wave of the future when it comes to online search engines. Currently when you search for something on the Internet you put in keywords, and Google has trained us to put those keywords in the order which is the most important. Typing in “Where’s a good place to find fish tacos?” is not likely to produce the best results. Now Google, Facebook and Apple are all working on tools that will change online search engines to work with the kind of real-life speak we use every day.

This brings you to Google vs. Siri. So far, Siri has been a somewhat quirky addition to the iPhone, but not something users put a lot of stock in. But that could change as a result of “conversational search.” Conversational search is the basis of what Siri does. On October 6, 2013, Jim Edwards wrote “Google, Apple And Facebook Are At War Over ‘Latent’ Search—A Business That’s About To Be Huge” for Business Insider and said, “if Siri was improved enough so that voice-activated mobile search with Siri became genuinely useful, iPhone users could switch en masse to Siri search rather than Google search.”

Competitors vs. partners

And there’s the rub. Right now, Google owns online searches, with about 70 percent of the market. And according to Kate Knibbs, who posted “Why is Google Sweating Siri? Because the Future of Search Is What You ‘Say’ It Is” on October 10, 2013, for the blog Digital Trends, things could have stayed that way: “In an alternate universe, Apple could’ve teamed up with Google on this, had Google remained a search engine and not set forth to dominate the mobile software industry with Android.”

But Google wanted more and Apple decided to fight back. That is why Google just introduced Hummingbird, perhaps its most substantial update in years. Unlike previous updates, which caused major headaches for websites and businesses utilizing search engine optimization (SEO), Hummingbird “sets Google up to become the type of search engine you yank out your phone and orally ask a question to, like Siri” according to Knibbs.

Beam me up, Scotty

According to Stephen Shankland in “Google’s conversational search arrives with new Chrome” written May 22, 2013, for cnet.com, “It’s all part of the gradual arrival of Google’s vision to build a Star Trek-style search engine, in which the computer grasps what people want and answers them.”

Pretty cool, right? Another piece in the puzzle that is online search engines is Google Glass. Although they are still a rare sight in the real world, if the device catches on, or for that matter any form of hands-free, voice-operated experience does, the need for conversational search will only increase. Whichever company wins in the Google vs. Siri fight, is primed to be the ruler of the next wave of device technology, as we shift from typing to speaking our questions.

Will your kids not know what you mean when you tell them to “google” something? How will you be searching online in five or 10 years? Will your questions be typed or spoken? Share your ideas on the future of online search engines in the comments below.

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