Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer did a wonderful duet up on stage, but
Bill said a few more things at dinner that struck me. First of all,
Bill was extremely happy. By all accounts, he's just been in a great
mood for the last few months, as he approaches his departure from
Microsoft next month. At dinner, he was most interested in talking
about Africa, malaria and how to rescue the US education system, than
in search and the like. Bless him!
But he did talk a little about search. The future of search is not
actually better "search," he said, but completion of a particular
task the user is trying to accomplish -- such as booking a flight,
trading a stock, scheduling a movie or a car repair.
Microsoft already does better on long multi-word searches, he added,
but no one notices. "The future of search is verbs!" In other words,
you don't want a list of search results; you want something specific
That, of course, is what Powerset is also aiming to do. (I'm an investor.)
Most interesting to Microsoft and its competitors are such
monetizable tasks, as opposed to booking a meeting with a friend ...
but someday marketers will realize people don't use the Web only to
buy things. It's as if newspapers were talking about themselves as
classifieds-only, without even mentioning news and other editorial
content. And it;s true: Craigslist is a fine business without any
encumbering news/editorial, but it's not the whole web.
How can we fund the rest of the Web -- the part where people are not
buying things? That's not the marketers' problem, of course,
especially if they're in the top-5 categories Bill mentioned (if I
remember right): travel, music, finance, consumer electronics, books?
However, it could be the marketers' opportunity ... the opportunity
for each marketer is different, but if they can figure out a way to
sponsor or enhance relevant content, joining communities and
contributing, rather than disrupting them with ads, then they may
actually get closer to their customers than their brethren who turn
to banners when they get diminishing returns from ads.