Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Is mobile search going to be different?

In an amusingly titled WWW 2009 paper, "Computers and iPhones and Mobile Phones, oh my!" (PDF), a quartet of Googlers offer some thoughts on where mobile search may be going.

In particular, based on log analysis of iPhone searches, they claim search on mobile devices is not likely to differ from normal web search once people upgrade to the latest phones. They go on to predict that an important future feature for mobile search will be providing history and personalization synchronized across all of a person's computers and mobile devices.

Some excerpts:
We have consistently found that search patterns on an iPhone closely mimic search patterns on computers, but that mobile search behavior [on older phones] is distinctly different.

We hypothesize that this is due to the easier text entry and more advanced browser capabilities on an iPhone than on mobile phones. Thus we predict that as mobile devices become more advanced, users will treat mobile search as an extension of computer-based search, rather than approaching mobile search as a tool for a distinct subset of information needs.

For [newer] high end phones, we suggest search be a highly integrated experience with computer-based search interfaces .... in terms of personalization and available feature set .... For example, content that was searched for on a computer should be easily accessible through mobile search (through bookmarks, search summaries), and vice versa.

This similarity in queries [also] indicates that we can use the vast wealth of knowledge amassed about conventional computer based search patterns, and apply it to the emerging high-end phone search market, to quickly gain improvements in search quality and user experience.


codingplayground said...

i read the paper and found it interesting.

Anyway, I believe that mobile search is a complete different story since you have the geo-localization context.

Web graph, query log, traffic mining and personalization can be segmented due to geo-localization clustering.

The holy gray is geo-localized ads. Can you call it ads anymore? and what is the difference with geo-localized information?

Liz Wallace said...

Greg, certainly a topic of much interest. I sent an e-mail to you regarding some new IP in this area. Thanks for the posts.

jeremy said...

Does anyone find it surprising that local search is not significantly different? Why is that? Could it be that most of the time, most people are not in some strange locale where they actually need to search for French-Asian fusion restaurants from their mobile? That most of the time, people are either in front of their home or work desktop/laptop, and usually search for the restaurant before they go out, rather than going out first, and then hoping that something interesting is around them? That's sort of the opposite of the fantasy that we all have, about the usefulness of geo-localized search.

So why is that?

Greg Linden said...

Hi, Jeremy. Absolutely, it does challenge the prediction that the key to mobile devices is extreme localization in search, content, and advertising.

One caveat though. The paper does note that the iPhone has a separate maps applications. The authors say that, when the usage of those apps is factored in, there are somewhat more (but not a lot more) local searches on mobile devices than on desktop.

jeremy said...

Aaaah. My idiocy. You're absolutely right, Greg. Mobile local searches aren't fewer. Just the way they counted things was "incorrect".

A couple of the other categories that they tracked, in addition to Local, were things like Images and Video, Science, Finance, Reference, etc.

Since they only seem to be tracking hits to the general web search engine www.google.com, and not tracking any hits to www.google.com/finance or images.google.com or scholar.google.com, I wonder if their statistics are similarly skewed.

If you're searching for financial information, and always go to www.google.com/finance when on the desktop, but go to www.google.com generic search when on your iphone or mobile, then that's a problem for all the numbers reported in this paper. Because what they really want to measure is the difference in the amount of searches people do of various types. But then if they only measure searches on one portion of their overall properties, you can't really trust those numbers, can you? Isn't that the same issue/problem that arises, because of the iPhone Maps app? (The Maps app sends searches to an address other than www.google.com).

Anonymous said...

I have always thought that query expansion/prediction would become more pervasive on mobile search.

No matter what people say how easy it is to write, there is real difference on typing speed between iPhones vs real keyboards.