Autonomous search. Serendipity engine.
Call it what you will, but that's not what Google is calling it anymore. Google's future plans to make its search engine more actionable by delivering results to users unbidden is one of the company's core missions in 2011. And it's now called contextual discovery.
And it's far more interesting to me at this point than Google Me + Emerald Sea + Google + 1= Google Zero, Facebook Take All.
It's no doubt more interesting at this point to Marissa Mayer, who revealed the contextual discovery term Le Web Dec. 8:
"Take a user's location as a piece of context for finding what they want without them actually searching for anything. We have a couple of things we're experimenting with, but it will be out in the next year."
Mayer is leading this effort, in which Google will sift through signals such as users' search history and location profile to serve them relevant search results and local ads and deals.
Google anticipates the receiver/sensor for this could be users' smartphones. All of this makes the NFC chip in the forthcoming Android 2.3-based Samsung Nexus One smartphone feel dated before it launches.
Google CEO Eric Schmidt discussed this effort in September, and he likes to use the example of walking down the street and receiving a notification about a nearby museum.
Mayer echoed his sentiment with more detail at Le Web:
"The idea is to push information to people. It's location in context. Inside the browser and a toolbar, we can look at where people have been going on the Web -- then we deliver it. But it's a big UI challenge. In the browser it might be a panel on the right or bottom that complements your browsing. On the mobile phone, it's where you are in the physical world. We can figure out where the next most useful information is. In a restaurant maybe it's a menu. Or maybe it's a social menu. It's about explicit and implicit location."
And hark this striking note: "We're trying to build a virtual mirror of the world at all times," Mayer said.
One thing is for sure. Google will have to work miracles to hammer out proper privacy policies for this, and sell it to the user. The company is on a short leash in light of the Google Buzz and Google WiSpy privacy fiascoes.
I maintain this contextual discovery is as exciting as it is scary. Who needs Big Brother when you've got Big Google watching you, albeit with your permission.