Search is dead, long live search

It was a bank holiday this weekend, and, for what felt like the first time this year, a strange, warm orange ball appeared in the sky.

Travelling into town, this had clearly caught everyone with a sense of surprise. Everyone was wearing an interesting mix of clothes.

  • Some, clearly those who got up early, were bundled up, clad in coats, shoes, and winter wear… seemingly refused to believe it was warm
  • Others, those who surfaced later, had made the switch and were in summer mode, breaking out the T-shirts and shorts. I was the latter, with socks on, of course… extra middle-aged comedic value.

Now, having decided to avoid the crush at the supermarket for sausages (it’s a reflexive thing; a sunny day equals barbecue in the UK)… I opted to sit in the sun at a local café, soaking up some sun. It was just lovely. Of course, I was also on the phone…

Grokkle

Now, I know a lot has been written, much of it lament, about the demise of Twitter and the change to X. For someone who uses Twitter/X to look at news, I have also noticed a change in the last year or so. However, as it is still the best source for breaking stories I have stuck with it, on my free plan, until now.

However, with the continued premiumisation of features, and especially the loss of TweetDeck (now X-Pro) it has been hard. Reluctantly, this last month, I eventually relented and signed up for a paid subscription…. and I have been pleasantly surprised.

Harmony has now been with X-Pro and to my delight I also discovered that Grok, X’s AI, is now available in the UK (from this weekend).

And, Grok was interesting. Different from both ChatGPT and Claude, it has been built with access to the live Twitterverse (or X-verse, I suppose).

You can simply ask it for what you want to know, and it will come back with a summary, with references to sources (tweets). The difference is it all seems very real-time. I can see it changing my reading and searching habits too… especially for news. It is so targeted.

In fairness, this is something that MS Co-pilot also does well. It searches the web, giving referenced stories (with ChatGPT doing this via Bing too). These tools however still refer back to newspapers and searchable web content… The advantage (or disadvantage 🙂 ) with Grok is the immediacy of Grok doing this live on social media. I was impressed.

This will have implications for search too.

Searching Social

I don’t know about you, but once I have seen something on social media, I find it almost impossible to find it again.

That hack… fixing a charging cable, stats from around the world… the one I saw on Instagram, TikTok, or Facebook… I thought was interesting, and then quickly move on.

My reactive/emotional brain is satisfied… but, my logical/slow thinking side (read thinking fast, thinking slow) about 5 minutes later says… “hang on a minute, that could be useful later, you need to bookmark it”!

So then I am stuck in a scroll loop trying to find it again.

Except of course the algorithm has now been updated, and finding it again is not easy. I have to resort to searching for fragments of what I remember… whilst all the time my feed is off down another rabbit hole. (1980’s dance moves anyone).

So maybe here Grok can help, maybe this is the future of search and maybe this is also the future of searching knowledgebase at work, for employees, and in apps for customers… Ie if we know roughly what we are looking for and can describe it, it does the searching for us.

Sounds good, and undoubtedly a step improvement over the boolean search we have today… I suspect we will see this in every customer service app in the very near future and not a fancy, ‘added feature’ but something that will be just expected.

A different approach

And like the search engine, once this starts to happen it will also change the way we write too. Remember ‘keywords’ and ‘tags/labels’.

I suspect we will start to add or include content to make it more easily interpretable by AI/LLM too. (I have already started taking notes differently, in a longer form).

This whole area is still moving fast, developments fast to market and close to the consumer. This week alone.

Meta released Meta.AI (not in the UK yet) and much like GROK, they have the benefit of access to social media data, think Facebook/WhatsApp and Instagram public content… The difference however is Meta owns 3 of the 4 top social platforms… the reach is huge, and this will be worth watching too

And then in the background, we have Google, who this week released NotebookLM. It again uses data (uploaded by you) to inform and enhance your note-taking. More developments from the search engine giant.

So whilst the demise of the search engine has often been mentioned… maybe it is not quite the case. Increasingly it seems to be less a question of search engine OR AI (LLM), but AI AND search engine both in combination…

…. we await OpenAI and ChatGPT-5 any time soon.

Have a good week everyone.

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Time flies – eventually

Last week I had an evening trip down to London. As it was after work, after a full day and with the travel, well I felt like skipping it… it would be easier to stay local.

However, a casual unrelated, comment “it is always much better to meet in person” – set a seed and made me change my mind… I’m glad I did; they were right. Sometimes is better to take the more difficult path in the end and meeting in person does make the difference.

Yet, in my rush to get out at 5pm, to make the train, I forgot my spare phone battery. Imagine my horror, too late I saw my battery percentage at 24%, it was not ideal.

No Battery, Nothing to do?

With a phone now being the Swiss army knife of the 21st century, I needed it to both communicate and find the meeting location – running out of battery juice was not an option. So as I sulked back into the seat on the train, I resigned myself to having to eke it out and strictly ration its use. Glumly I starred out the window for the rest journey.

You see these days killing time is not normally a problem – grab a coffee, maybe a pain au raisin, and a quick surf of the news, it’s enough to fill an hour. But without a phone or online access? what then?

So arriving ahead of time I was stuck with dread. I head to Pret (of course) with 40 minutes to kill… and nothing to “do”.

  • First 10 minutes. Felt very self-conscious, didn’t fit in. (everyone else – on their phone). Found myself staring at passers-by and trying not to look too much like a weirdo (I’m not sure I succeeded, and I apologise to those who noticed). Time passed slowly.
  • Next 10 minutes. I thought… “I can do some thinking”… “now where is my pen?”. I had forgotten a pen!… Checked watch 20 times, time did not seem to move.
  • Next 10 minutes… Some strange stirrings in the brain… a few interesting things to think about… ideas started to pop up… how would I approach this, think about that?… I was definitely checking my watch less now!
  • Then… time to go… hang on, where did the last 10 minutes go? I ran out of time, lost in thought and now needing to hurry.

It was an interesting experience, just stopping and thinking. There were some surprising results.

If our lives are filled with noise, can we actually hear ourselves think?

In all our busyness, doing, being active, and need to feel busy (which the phone is great for by the way), how much critical thinking time are we actually missing?

In today’s world we are so reliant on our devices, yet as this (enforced) exercise really illustrated, these devices also feed yet more busyness.

Had my phone not been almost out of charge, I would have spent a pleasant 40 minutes doom-scrolling the news or watching TikTok (mainly of Excel spreadsheet functions these days, it seems!). It most certainly would have passed the time; I may have learned something and would have at least felt ‘busy’.

Yet I would not have had as much in the way of new big ideas, nor been able to use my rational, conscious, brain to think things through.

Is our modern world shutting down our ability to think, instead training us to scroll, shortening our attention spans? Is it forcing us to rely on our unconscious, automatic reactionary decision-making centres in the brain instead? It feels like it may and this may not be a good thing, at least all the time.

Fortunately, not all is lost; and although difficult at first, with a bit of practice, we can get these skills back… and maybe some new ideas too. It is worth a try, at least for 45 min.

So this week, my resolution is to put the phone down a little more… maybe pick up a book, or just stare into space again. You never know it may be worth it.

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Track to the Future

It was only a quick question… “if I forward an email, can other people see that I have done so?”

‘Pretty straightforward’, I opined… yet on further thought, it was a much smarter question than I gave credit for… and one that illustrated a couple of underlying truths or trends.

No Slacking

Now I am someone who has grown up with email… I have a fondness for Outlook, and dare I say, Lotus Notes and ccMail too!

But, rather than taking this perspective let’s view it from the perspective of someone (likely younger) who has grown up with social media, Slack, or Snapchat as their primary forms of communication instead.

Here, everything is tracked; You can instantly see if a message has been delivered, read, or forwarded. And, from this perspective, the question suddenly makes a lot of sense. Why, of course, should a forwarded email not be visible?

Now for most of us in the world of work, and especially for those over 30, we know the answer – forwarding an email is not trackable – generally speaking at least. That is the way legacy email works.

But, taking a step back, and despite the actual answer, who in fact is making the safer assumption and is better prepared for communication in the 21st century?

Is it those in the email paradigm, with assumptions around communication is not being tracked, or the (younger) part where a base assumption is that everything can be tracked, and visible, somewhere where you need to be careful?… all of a sudden, I feel old!

Recently I have spent a fair bit of time discovering and discussing cybersecurity, and it’s been quite concerning.

It is not only what we see, but also what’s going on under the surface (the stuff that we are not aware of) that is troubling. New technology, hacking techniques and even social engineering is increasingly being used.

Yet the level of awareness, for most of us, is really not where it needs to be.

It is easy to be caught out, get surprised – all of which can result in a lot of complications that need to be resolved. This can happen even more easily if our paradigms of how the world works are stuck in the past too.

The Open Ocean

‘The old days’, where we worked in smaller communities, knew people, trusted and (dare I say) had even met them, are fading fast… it was a warmer but smaller pond back then.

Now it seems we are increasingly being thrust into the global ocean, cold, dark and less explored. Undoubtedly possibilities seem endless, yet the dangers are more ever-present… and our guard needs to be up.

Despite this, the underlying truth from the question was actually something quite reassuring.

Younger generations are far more prepared for swimming in this new reality than someone, like myself, who finds some of this unfamiliar.

They have the sense to ask the right questions and be cautious by nature. By doing so, they are much better prepared to take advantage of all the opportunities out there.

For the rest of us… it is not quite time to close the spreadsheets and put the permanent out-of-office message on just yet… but as ever it is worth listening and observing the little things to see how things are changing. It helps us be flexible and adapt.

Remember not all is lost; we can change our paradigms too… 🙂 Now, where are my slippers?

Have a good weekend, everyone.

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