Search vs. Discovery – Or “Why Mahalo is in trouble”

I am surprised at how little attention the gulf between “tech-savvy” folks and non-techies receives. I’m even more surprised at how little distinction is made between the two major functions of search engines: “search” and “discovery” and how they relate to who is really using computers, both now and in the future.

First, some clarification…

“Search” is when you are looking for something specific, a confirmation of information that you already know exists. “Search” is when you need to find out the population of Rhode Island or when you need directions to the Pizza Hut or want to know how to play Monopoly. “Search” is finding information of which you are aware. Outside of Google, Yahoo, MSN Live, etc., I happen to think Wikipedia is an excellent “Search” engine. In fact, I use it as often (or more) then I use Google.

“Discovery” is when you find something of which you were previously either unaware or uninterested in. The most basic form of discovery is simply reading the news. Yes, you know about many of the topics and people in the news, but (assuming the “story” is actually new) the information contained within the news is something of which you were previously unaware since no one can predict the future. Digging deeper, “discovery” is fostered by such sites as Digg, Reddit, StumbleUpon, and Sphere. Each of these sites displays content that helps you discover new things. New information, a new blog, a new application, new people, etc. The purpose of the sites is to help you find the pieces of the web that you aren’t likely to find on your own randomly entering phrases in to a “search” engine.


So, what does this have to do with Mahalo? For those of you unfamiliar with Mahalo (, it is a widely talked about* search engine thingamajig wherein real people with real brains organize important content on the most searched keywords and the site displays that content accordingly. You type in “kittens” or “Paris Hilton” and you get a results page showing information deemed as relevant and essential based not on computer algorithms, but on the input of people. (*”widely talked about” = discussed by half a dozen well-read Valley bloggers)

Well, what’s the problem with Mahalo? Simple: Mahalo is a “search” engine on an internet that desperately craves “discovery” engines. What do I mean by “desperately craves?” It boils down to the first thing I mentioned in this post: the difference between techies and non-techies. A non-techie like my grandmother would get a great deal of use out of Mahalo. Granted, she can already use Wikipedia and Google to find things like “hamburger recipes” but that’s immaterial. A person who uses the internet only a few minutes a day relies almost exclusively on “search” engines when needing something online. They do not sit down at the computer for an hour looking for a cool new video site or bookmarking things. Similarly, they will either become more ingrained in internet usage, making them more “tech savvy” (as I’ll cover next) or they’ll remain in their current bubble of going to Google to find everything, oblivious that there are plenty of other sites out there.

On the flip side, more tech savvy users spend hours at a time online. MySpace pages, YouTube videos, etc. These users understand that the internet is an extremely large universe. These users are also the growing online population. They will spend both professional time and leisure time online, as will their children. As time passes and technology find more and more ways to improve the efficiency of society, the percentage of “tech savvy” individuals using computers will rise and the percentage of “non-techie” users will decline.

As these percentages change, the generation of people using “search” engines to find things will become increasingly tied to specific applications that not only offer the information they seek, but also to quantify that information. Networks like Yelp!, Google Maps applications, etc. will be the go-to point for information currently found in Google search. Stagnant information that answers the “who what where why” will come from specified sources that use widespread communities to qualify the information.

Yes, what I’m saying is that the destination “search engine” will go the way of the T-Rex in the not too distant future as networks of people become more intertwined with networks of information. In the event this “people-network-info-network” doesn’t suffice, firmly entrenched old standbys like Wikipedia and Google’s current search platform will still serve a purpose. That said, in less then a decade I think the concept of going to a site to help you get information from another site will cease to exist. Which means building a search engine that simply provides relevant information when people “Search” is akin to deciding 2004 was a great time to get in to the CD manufacturing business. There is a reason all the major players in search are diversifying their search offerings and site functionality.

Do I think Mahalo can exist? Sure. Do I think there product is catering to a user base that is fast in decline? Absolutely, without question. Factor in that not only are they are chasing an endangered species of computer user, but they are taking on some pretty big gorillas in the process in Google, Yahoo, and Wikipedia, and I think that Mahalo will have a hard time ever being more then a much-talked-about, little-used “search” destination.


One Response

  1. There is a way to search people profile by email or username, follow my homepage

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