The most significant technology that will emerge in the next five years is… ? I wonder what you think it will be. There are many contenders: advanced alternative energy creation and uses, genetics, personalised medication, nanotechnology, even space travel with Virgin Galactic? While these may not quite make my five year horizon, even if they did happen, I still am fairly confident to say that the technology advance that is most likely to change how we live and work in the next few years is… how we process information.

This might not sound like a huge revolution, but it will change everything – and that’s my definition of a revolution. What I mean is that the ways in which we search for information, who we trust, where we go to find things, how we communicate, how we buy and how we learn are all changing as we speak. If these change, then that impacts sales, marketing, teams, management, leadership, organisational design, partnerships, contracts, supply chain management, procurement, communications and probably a few other parts of your business I can’t quite think of now. OK, it will affect everything! That’s my point.

A few weeks ago, my wife organised for us to spend a weekend in Paris to celebrate my birthday. I have only ever been to the city of love on business, and she had never been before. We wanted to go to one of Paris’ top restaurants for a dinner, so started to search for an appropriate venue. Go to Google and type “good restaurant in Paris” into the search bar and see what you get. Literally millions of pages – most of whom are agents trying to sell you packages. Unhelpful. So, we then thought of going to the Michelin star guide, but discovered that this would still leave us with a hundred or so choices. So, eventually, I went to Facebook and asked my friends if they had any recommendations. Over 20 responses came in within a few hours – many of the recommendations also saying something like, “Knowing you and what you like, I’d suggest…”.

Then, something unexpected happened. A few of the people responding on Facebook started arguing with each other. They disagreed over each other’s recommendations. After a day or so of interactions, a clear favourite restaurant emerged from the discussions (if you’re interested, it was the superb Jules Verne in the Eiffel Tower). This is a much more satisfactory way of selecting a restaurant in Paris! In this personal story you’ll find a snapshot of the future of search.

This week’s link up between Bing and Facebook is a move precisely in this direction, and Fast Company magazine has written up an excellent article on the implications. Read it here or an extract below.

And then sit down with your team and have a strategic conversation about the implications for your business and work. This really will change everything in the next five years!

The Bing-Facebook Alliance: Six Things You (and Google) Should Know

BY E.B. BOYD, Oct 13, 2010
Bing and Facebook just made search social. Will your online life ever be the same again?

It’s not too audacious to say that the new Bing search features that Microsoft and Facebook unveiled today are going to upend the search business.

Until now, search algorithms have used machine learning and artificial intelligence to predict which of the billions of pages out on the Internet might be most salient to your search. Now, at least on Bing, they’re going to have access to something even more precious: the knowledge of who your friends are and what they like.

Among the features Bing is rolling out to users in the coming days is a module called “Liked Results” to its search results. Looking for information on that new Tom Cruise movie? On Google, your search engine would serve up the relevant pages it has calculated are the most popular. On Bing, as of now, it serves up the regular Google-style results and a module that shows you pages your friends have liked — including, for example, movie reviews. You no longer have to do the work of trolling through search results to figure out which of the pages might tell you whether the movie’s a hit or a bomb. Trust your friend Sara’s taste? Click on the page she Liked.

So what does this all mean? Here are a few takeaways:

1. Search just reached an inflection point. Google’s great innovation was to figure out how to deliver the most relevant search results, based on the assumption that a webpage that had a large number of other pages linking to it would be more interesting than one with fewer links. Google has built its search algorithms by continuing to troll large sets of data for other attributes that indicate relevance. Now, however, Bing can deliver results based on what your trusted sources of information—your friends and acquaintances—think. This is a giant leap forward. Among other things, it means that…

2. Companies have to focus on creating great customer experiences. Because when their customers go searching online—for a movie, a camera, a travel destination—their friends’ recommendations are going to be front and center. Launched a store that no one “Liked?” you’re not going to show up in the search results.

3. Search is going to look a lot different. Forget the list of blue links. As Qi Lu, the engineering lead for the new changes (and president of Microfsoft’s Online Services Group), said, once you introduce a social dimension to search results, you could actually start representing search results—visually—in new ways. He didn’t say what those might look like, but be prepared to see them soon, because…

4. We’re going to be seeing even more social elements introduced into Bing’s search results. And soon. Both Microsoft and Facebook said that today’s new features were just the beginning. It only took them two months to gin up the ones they released today. Which means more are going to be coming down the pike in the months to come. Which means…

5. Google may have to go back to the drawing board. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg didn’t say they were shutting the search giant out. In fact, he said that, ultimately, the company would like to work with all players in search. But for now, it appears he’s working solely with Microsoft.

6. You must master your Facebook privacy settings. Mindful of earlier criticism of Facebook’s handling of privacy issues, both Microsoft and Facebook went out of their way today to stress that users will retain control over what Facebook shares with Bing. The flip side is that users actually have to exercise the control that Bing and Facebook give them. Don’t want your friends’s friends to know you Liked Justin Beiber’s fan page? Better check those privacy settings now.

Source: Fast Company magazine

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