Searching For Mobile Search
By Mike Masnick, Wed Jul 21 00:30:00 GMT 2004

Search is hot, and everyone is looking for areas where search may expand. Mobile phones are an obvious possibility, but do people really want traditional search on their mobile phones?

Google is about to go public. Microsoft is working day and night on a new search engine. Lots of entirely unrelated companies are trying to figure out how they play in the "search space." Even the BBC is thinking about getting into the search engine business. Clearly, the search space is popular. With all of that happening, some are suddenly worried that search engines are running out of inventory (a belief that seems to ignore the realities of how pricing solves supply and demand issues). Whether or not it's a real problem, it has analysts everywhere looking to see where the search space can expand, and one obvious target is for search to go mobile.

The idea certainly isn't new. Google launched a mobile search engine years ago, and there's been a lot of maneuvering in the space lately. While some are suggesting that the reason mobile search has been slow to take off is because the user interface is no good, the real answer may involve the nature of being mobile. Too often, content and application providers try to take an existing application and "make it mobile" without taking into account the fact that people do things differently when they're mobile. It's not just because the device, input mechanisms and screen are smaller, or that the connection is slower, but that the very reason people use their mobile phone and their computer is different.

When at home or at work, people tend to use the internet in a different way from when they're mobile. There are obvious exceptions, but sitting at a computer and using the internet is a more involved process. Searches tend to be done to find information to help you complete what you're working on on the computer, or to point you to resources you may need for a future effort or project. When someone is on the go, the information people need is much more likely to be related to what they're physically doing at that moment. Renting a video? You immediately want reviews. Hungry? You want a place nearby where you can eat, including reviews and whether or not they can seat you right away. Bit by a snake? You want to know if it's poisonous. A mobile search isn't so much a search for general information, but a search that is somehow related to the non-mobile phone activity you're involved in at the moment.

There are plenty of reasons why mobile search hasn't taken off yet, including many mentioned in the various articles above. However, until mobile search offerings take into account what it means to be mobile, and understand the situations under which a mobile search are likely to be conducted, users are going to keep on searching for the mobile search they need.