Last week I was chatting with some folks about the ongoing shift of data to the cloud, specifically talking about the challenges that this presents for search (which are many). Then a couple of days later I was reading a Forbes article from Joe McKendrick (@joemckendrick) entitled “Why Owning Software or Data ‘No Longer Makes Sense” which talked about the shift away from local data to the cloud hosted kind, with the implication that people no longer need local data. While I generally agree with the principle, I don’t believe that this transition is going to happen without significant pain, trade-offs for consumers, and a number of missteps by cloud providers. I anticipate one of those missteps is going to be the area of personal search.
Personal Search is the process of searching within one’s personal space of digital information. and was traditionally referred to as Desktop Search in the good old days of the PC. It was able to search not just every file you created, but essentially every single file you even looked at since everything you read gets copied to your desktop, thanks to the browser cache. So the desktop became your personal memory and desktop search allowed you to root around in your head and find stuff. It wasn’t perfect, but it was the best we had. And compared to today… it wasn’t half bad.
Today what I find increasingly curious is that personal search seems to have completely disappeared as a topic of discussion. Before writing this blog post I was rooting around the Internet to see what people are saying on the subject. Answer: Nothing! The only references were to Google, which doesn’t have personal search it has social search. It’s as though the trend of moving your data to the cloud somehow makes personal search irrelevant, whereas that couldn’t be further from the truth. If you think it was hard to find stuff when it was all located on your own PC, just imagine how much fun its going to be when your data is now scattered across dozens of cloud services across the Internet or corporate Intranet.
When people are looking for information, they are frequently looking for something they already touched before. The greatest complaint I hear from people across both consumer and enterprise domains is NOT that they can’t find content in general (although that is also a problem in many cases, particularly across the Intranet), but that they can’t find THEIR content; And I don’t mean the content they’ve created I mean the content they’ve touched, no matter how light the touch (read, saved (for later), bookmarked,…). Let us be very clear, Personal Search is NOT Internet or Intranet Search. Until such time as these web-based search engines can index every single thing I touch, from across Internet and Intranet (in the case of the Intranet search engine) and public or private, they won’t be able to compete with traditional desktop search.
And until such time as that issue is addressed, moving all my content to the cloud will be extremely unattractive from an information findability perspective.