A thought occurred to me last week while watching a co-worker navigate his way to a webpage. Rather than actually type the website’s name in the browser’s address bar (which he knew) and navigating to the specific page he wanted to see, he went to Google and typed in a few keywords, hit enter, and the specific webpage he wanted was 2nd or 3rd in the list. I noticed I did the same thing later on that week. I needed to register an AppleCare support agreement. Rather than browse to www.apple.com, click on Support, Register & View Applecare, Register a new agreement, I just went to www.google.com, typed in “register applecare”, and the first result took me where I needed to go & I got there quicker too.
A large part of this behavior can be credited to the effectiveness of search engines today. A decade or so ago, I’m sure people would most likely prefer to browse to the website’s root URL rather than use a search engine as a shortcut to get there. This is probably because search engines then just weren’t anywhere nearly as good as they are now. Today, we can see search results of things happening in the world in real time. That just goes to show how far things have come. It’s also interesting to me to wonder where they’re going. We can safely assume searching isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. It might take new forms, but the idea will be the same: People want easy and efficient ways to tell a computer what to do.
Take the way I use my Macbook Pro for example. I have a program called Quicksilver installed, which is like a swiss army knife for invoking actions, or “doing things”, on the laptop. Say I want to launch an app that’s not in my dock. I’ll hit CTRL+SPACE and start typing the app I want, which shows up in half a second, then I hit enter and it opens. To me, that is a lot more efficient than clicking my way through Finder to find the app I want. I think this type of behavior is going to become a lot more prevalent in the coming years of the digital world. Manually browsing via menus & shortcuts are a thing of the past. I will admit, I even use Quicksilver to launch apps that are already in my dock! It’s just that engrained in my thought process. We’re coming into the digital age where we can just tell a computer what we want and it produces results.
So what of DNS? I understand it’s tightly woven into the very fabric of the IT world… a lot of things just won’t work without it. Does the end user care? Probably not. If you allow yourself to imagine for a minute, how much easier would IT be if it didn’t have to rely on DNS? DNS was created to provide a user-friendly way to remember how to get to a particular computer because no way could everyone remember the particular IP address for each individual computer. With the way things are going, it seems all you need is a good search engine and a way to set specific metadata or keywords that tells the search engine what you are. This doesn’t have to just be limited to web browsing. I can see it taking place of anything and everything we use DNS for. All you need is a kind of a database that gathers and collects these metadata of what a computer is or does, then other computers will be able to easily find it just by having the user type in what he/she wants to do. The type of service would be discovered, and it would trigger the appropriate action on the operating system automatically. A lot of you might be thinking, “that sounds awfully insecure”… but it wouldn’t be! Just imagine if you could restrict a particular user’s search results to only systems they’re supposed to have access to, such as on a corporate LAN for example. Then the results, of course, would have to be verified by some sort of two-factor or certificate based authentication, before triggering the operating system behavior. All the end user would have had to do was type “accounting file server” in a search box, and be automatically connected once verifying and choosing the results. There’s a lot more to consider than just that, of course… I’m just barely skimming the surface.
One thing’s for sure, it’s going to be interesting to see how search will continue to play a role in the future of IT. Not just using search as a way to find information you want, but using search as a way to start a process of actions for what you want to do. Almost sounds like the beginnings of Artificial Intelligence, doesn’t it? :)