Search As A Narrative
"The horror of that moment," the King went on, "I shall never, never forget."
"You will though," the Queen said, "if you don’t make a memorandum of it."
Lewis Carroll, Through The Looking Glass
So, I would like to have a do-over on this old post that I wrote. Not that I think the post was wrong or bad…I actually think quite highly of it. But, it wasn’t really what I wanted to say given its inspiration.
Here’s the backstory: I communicate with lots of different people as part of what I do for a living. Certainly, I like to know who I’m dealing with so with some of these people, I do a little “background Googling” to glean insight into them or their business. I did this with one such individual and followed a trail of documents that lead me down a wholly unexpected, surprising path and, when read together in the sequence that I read them painted an amazing cohesive narrative (though none of the pages were remotely exceptional when looked at individually).
In the post I wrote based upon the experience, I said the following:
“Google does not return a fully realized illustration of each query, leaving the searcher to instinctively complete the picture that Google starts and from that, draw their own conclusions from the information presented. Different people will finish their portraits in their own way… people do not process information the same plus there always is distinct differences as to how deep in the SERPS each person will look and in how many / which documents are clicked on and examined in detail.”
I still feel this is correct…the documents examined by the searcher are small portions of the(ir) “story” and the searcher will fill in the (frequently large) missing gaps in order to complete it based upon their personal point of view. But, then I go off and talk about Online Reputation Management instead of developing the point I should have made back then…
Search is a narrative.
Why are top search engine rankings important? Because higher ranked documents are more likely to be included in the searcher’s narrative and ultimately lend influence to a decision or action made by the searcher.
A new quest for information begins Page 1 of your story. Each search query you make, each document / image / video / post you examine, and each hyperlink you click pushes the plotline along. It can have plot, protagonists, antagonists, different points of view, drama, comedy…well, any type of form or content that can be contained in any fiction or non-fiction. The story is live and in real time, playing out in the mind of the searcher.
But the most fascinating part of the whole process is the relationship between the searcher and the group of results. When you overlay an individual’s humanity onto a web search, you’ll get as many different narratives as you have people making the same search. Not every narrative is compelling…probably most are routine, dull stories containing rudimentary plot lines. However, following the breadcrumbs laid out by Google / Bing / Yahoo can take you down an unexpected compelling path.
I’m sure that most of the people that made my “memorable” query wouldn’t have walked down the path that I did. Many might have seen nothing compelling in their narrative returned by Google. My perceptions of the story can’t be mistaken for truth…it’s only my point of view based upon my interpretation of the documents presented to me (and could actually be far from the ultimate reality of the situation). However, the narrative felt true to me and it has certainly colored my view of the individual in question.