In Complex Search we trust

Last week, Seth Godin wrote about the critical role trust plays in our market relationships.

And the upside? The upside is that individuals (and organizations) that don’t stoop, that manage to figure out how to have influence without trying to profit from it, those brands are the ones that will last, that will thrive and that will bring the rarest commodity–trust–to the table.

Trust is an absolutely essential ingredient when we buy. We don’t part with hard earned dollars unless we convince ourselves the result will be worth it. We count on the salesman or the manufacturer to deliver real value. We trust their promises and fork over the cash.

Sure, Caveat Emptor, buyer beware. But companies that violate our trust once lose our business forever. In today’s markets there is so much choice, so many options, that once trust is gone, people are free to move on to another offer, and they do.

This is nothing new. Trust has always been critical. The information age changes the pace and volume of information, but not the criticality of trust. It seems to me that hundreds of years ago a single piece of information–“The King is dead.”–could change the course of a battle and turn the tide of a war. Today, a single piece of information is rarely so valuable. Instead, we assimilate, analyze, and respond to vast torrents of information. Diving into the Internet is like swimming in an ocean; daily RSS feeds from the Blogoverse are like drinking from a fire hose. It isn’t about any particular drop of water, it is about whether or not you can consume and respond quickly and intelligently enough to keep yourself from drowning.

What remains the same today and yesterday is the critical nature of how much trust you place in your sources of information. If news about the departed monarch of yesteryear arrived from the mouth of the town drunk, it wasn’t believed. If today’s assertions of male enhancement and unimagined wealth are delivered in attention assaulting SPAM, they too deserve little notice. In both worlds, trust moderates the flow of information. Without a source or a guide we can trust, no information can be depended on.

Sometimes that trusted guide is someone you know. Sometimes it is a brand that you’ve come to rely upon. Or perhaps it is someone referred to you by someone else.

Yet, when it matters, we rarely trust just one source, no matter how trustworthy. Our doctors tell us to get a second opinion. Buyers seek multiple bids. Journalists are trained to double check their facts. It is a matter of due course to seek out alternative perspectives to transform a one dimensional recommendation into a three dimensional panorama with scope and breadth of multiple experiences and views. Even at Amazon, we rarely read just one review; we want a wealth of perspectives so we can paint a richer picture of the product in question.

With the Internet, we regularly review and incorporate multiple sources in our decision making. We double check the prices at Expedia and Travelocity at Orbitz or We check online reviews and competitive offers from multiple sources for just about any item we can buy, from cars to computers to movies. We aren’t limited to any particular silo of information. We mix and match until we have convinced ourselves that we understand well enough to make a decision. This is the oceanic torrent of diverse information we sift through to discover truth.

This is complex search. We browse the web, using multiple search providers and track results across many many destination websites. It isn’t about the quality of any single search result, it is about managing the aggregate results from multiple services across the web.

When we search for a house, we don’t take the MLS listing at face value, we also check and want to learn about schools, crime, traffic, smog, and public transportation in the neighborhood. When looking for a job, we don’t just trust or, we also visit the company’s web page, scan Google and Technorati for buzz, and may even check out eTrade or Hoover’s for more in-depth financial data. We use the Internet to compile an aggregate view of our search target, a view that combines the perspectives of many different sources of varying levels of trust. The end result is a composite that we can trust because it represents a coherent representation of a broad range of diverse data, selected using our own judgment. We trust it more because it isn’t sole source, because we did the legwork, because we own it emotionally.

And yet, of the search solutions available today, none make it easy to manage this type of inherently complex process of double-checking, comparing, and seeking second, third and fourth opinions. What you type in at Expedia has to be re-typed at CheapTickets and United and Travelocity, and the results are often hard to retain for later comparison. What you find on eBay is isolated from the results at Amazon and shipping, handling, & taxes may be hidden until you proceed to checkout; even shopping sites like NexTag, TheFind, and ThisNext don’t make it easy to mix & match and compare multiple products fully priced from multiple merchants. Even Google and Yahoo! and MSN leave vast swaths of the Internet outside of their search database, commonly known as “The Dark Web.” Today’s search is a vast array of isolated islands, each offering a glimpse into their private database, their own private silo. But users don’t live in silos, they skip across the net from island to island, saving to bookmarks, printing to PDFs, opening links in new tabs and windows, even cutting & pasting into Word, trying to keep track of their journey. It’s a mess.

What we need is a tool or a system that lets us coordinate complex searches across the ‘net, using any search provider we want–indeed using any query-driven web service–all seamlessly integrated into a single interface and repository stored in the user context. We need the user to be in charge of their search, no matter where it might lead, how it might evolve, and what information is uncovered. We don’t need to be bound to any particular vendor, or isolated in any particular silo. We do need to be able to expand the search to include new search providers and to capture unforeseen data. And its needs to be both easy and powerful. And it all needs to work without interrupting, distracting, or confusing users.

That’s what we are working on at SwitchBook. Over the course of the next few months, I’ll be exploring what Complex Search means, highlighting how current and emerging tools succeed and fail to meet this need. Hopefully you’ll find it as compelling a problem as I do and will take a moment to share your thoughts on how we can shift the search world from the simple query-response of the Google era to an interconnected system of search technologies that empower users to resolve truly complex searches simply, quickly, and effectively. When we can do that, we can create a system that is accessible enough, flexible enough, and transparent enough for every user to trust.

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4 Responses to In Complex Search we trust

  1. Jim Bursch says:

    Trust is a shortcut to the complex search. There is an inverse relationship to the trustworthiness of a source of information, and the amount of time and effort that has to go into fact-checking or research.

    I recently changed the deordorant that I use. I switched from a “name” brand to the Trader Joes branded deodorant. Trader Joe tells me his deodorant has less bad stuff and more good stuff.

    Now, I honestly don’t want to do any research on deodorant. I don’t care that much. So I’m going to trust Trader Joe, and if his deordorant works for me, I will continue to trust him. If not, I will have to do some research on deodorant.

    The Web, on the whole, is long on data (good and bad), but very short on trust.

    Trust is an important topic that merits a lot of discussion — thanks Joe!

  2. Joe says:


    Trust can be a bypass of the complex search, but not a shortcut.

    Inherent in the complex search is the need to go to multiple search providers (including the likes of Expedia and Amazon) to resolve your search.

    If, instead, you are comfortable going to just one provider, it is a simple search. The Google approach to simple searches is great. Their approach to complex search leaves much to be desired.

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