Google (and the rest of the web) must choose what will be important…

I hope Eric Schmidt understands the weight of his question:

“We can index real-time info now – but how do we rank it?”

Google has monetized the web, and barring any changes, the decisions it makes regarding real-time search will shape the future of online content.  You end up getting what you choose to measure.  You find what you are looking for.  Search algorithms are editorial decisions.

In the world of old media, volume was all that mattered.  Delivering huge audiences – noise, regardless of signal – was paramount.  The measurement of those audiences was contentious and largely dependent on small sample sizes and self-reported diaries.

The web initially followed the patterns of old media.  Page views were important; the more sets of eyes lain upon a banner ad, the more money it was worth.  The life (and death) of Geocities is a perfect example of the transition from old-to-new.  Database-driven sites such as blogs, forums, and CMS-suites (for ‘big content’) became increasingly available and the monetary and skill barriers to entry dropped continued to drop, dynamic websites supplanted static sites.

The precision possible in the digital world must make the advertising community very nervous.  It is no longer enough to say that 21,000,000 people watched a program when the data exists to tell a client how many visitors watched how long of a program from what location and via what device.  How does this threaten Madison Avenue and the Cable Companies?

The new, fragmented, even-larger volume of real-time search will be much more dependent on signal, and will live in the long tail.  What will search mean in a future of status updates, pings, and tweets?

We are moving from an era of “pushing attention for influence via impressions” to one of “pulling engagement for persuasion by actions”. The ways of old media will still be important in mass-marketing, but the granularity of the medium lends itself more to micro-marketing.    What will the search services index?    Will it be based on popularity via page views?    Followers, fans, and favorites?     Will the value of content and an audience be determined by quantity and/or quality?   Will the online landscape be dominated by Balloon Boy or Health Care Reform?