Right now, the thing that everyone’s buzzing about is semantic search. Search engines, we’re told, are getting smarter – better at providing us with precisely what we’re looking for. The prevailing slogan of this shift, trumpeted by the likes of Google, is “things, not strings.”
It’s pretty easy to see where all this stuff came from, too. Smartphones and tablets have become more or less ubiquitous in modern society. With their spread, we’ve seen an increased focus on conversational search – on people asking questions of their devices rather than keying in a few search terms.
Along with the change in user expectations brought about by social media – the notion that our needs are important and our demands must be met in a convenient fashion – the change was necessary.
Some of you are probably wondering why I’m telling you all of this. After all, we’re here to talk about virtual reality, aren’t we? We’re here to discuss how VR could change search.
Bear with me – I’m going somewhere with this.
See, I think the technologies related to semantic search – and how they brought it about – could be used to extrapolate what might happen as virtual reality becomes more widespread and widely-accepted as a sort of ‘next step’ in how we consume information. Because really, if you think about it…everything’s sort of leading to VR in one way or another.
I should probably explain that thought a bit better, shouldn’t I?
Right. Here’s the thing – modern technology is designed to be as intuitive and easy to use as possible. Mice and keyboards have given way to touch-screens and voice commands. Large desktops have given way to computing devices that can fit in one’s pocket.
Eventually, that stuff’s all going to give way to augmented reality. Touchscreens are going to be replaced by gestures. Voice commands are going to be the norm. The way we consume and approach information will undergo yet one more fundamental shift; greater than any before it.
That change is coming sooner than you’d think, too – enterprises are already hard at work testing the underlying hardware behind augmented reality.
Once augmented reality’s been widely accepted, the next step will be virtual reality. Rather than using our technology to augment our surroundings with information, we’ll use it to make our surroundings into that information. We’ll be able to actually visualize the search process – and the results.
I expect that this will further emphasize entities over keywords – it will be the final ‘nail in the coffin’ for many traditional SEO techniques, as it were. It’ll also be something else, though: the birth of an entirely new type of content and new marketing paradigms that fit with it.
Search – and marketing- will both be more visual than ever; rich snippets could give way to fully-interactive ‘digital billboards.’ And behind those billboards? An online experience like nothing ever seen before – with the ability to actually look at how your customers are engaging with your content rather than reading analytics on a screen.
“A brand could design a holistic virtual shopping experience where a consumer could meet up with others within the same virtual store for a private shopping trip with real commerce taking place,” writes Search Engine Watch’s Dan Cristo. “This is the likely future of e-commerce.”
“VR content extends beyond shopping,” he continues. “Think of how many hair tutorials the average shampoo brand uploads to YouTube. All those tutorials can now be 3-D virtual experiences where the consumer stands behind the virtual shoulder of a professional beautician in their LA salon as they style a favorite celebrity. Or the consumer can join a makeup artist on the set of a new movie as they prep a star for their next scene.”
All of this stuff is purely speculative, of course. There’s really no telling what the future may hold for search. Still, it’s exciting to stop and wonder every now and then, isn’t it?