Mendoza School of Business

The search is over: Internet content is looking for you

Published: May 1, 2013 / Author: Shannon Chapla

Where you are and what you’re doing increasingly play key roles in how you
search the Internet. In fact, your search may just conduct itself.

This concept, called “contextual search,” is improving so gradually the
changes often go unnoticed, and we may soon forget what the world was like
without it, according to Brian
, a technology expert and adjunct instructor of management in the
University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business.

Contextual search describes the capability for search engines to recognize a
multitude of factors beyond just the search text for which a user is seeking.
These additional criteria form the “context” in which the search is run.
Recently, contextual search has been getting a lot of attention due to interest
from Google.

Utilizing contextual search, Google
provides information based on location, and by accessing calendar
entries and travel confirmation messages in Gmail accounts. Available on
Android for the last six months, Google Now was just released for the
iPhone/iPad platform.

“You no longer have to search for content, content
can search for you
, which flips the world of search completely on its
head,” says Proffitt, who is the author of 24 books on mobile technology and
personal computing and serves as an editor and daily contributor for, one of the most widely read and
respected tech blogs in the world.

“Basically, search engines examine your request and try to figure out what
it is you really want,” Proffitt says. “The better the guess, the better the
perceived value of the search engine. In the days before computing was made
completely mobile by smartphones, tablets and netbooks, searches were only
aided by previous searches.

“Today, mobile computing is adding a new element to contextual searches,” he
says. “By knowing where and when a search is being made, contextual search
engines can infer much more about what you want and deliver more robust
answers. For example, a search for nearby restaurants at breakfast time in
Chicago will give you much different answers than the exact same search in
Tokyo at midnight.”

Context can include more than location and time. Search engines will also
account for other users’ searches made in the same place and even the known
interests of the user.

“Someday soon,” Proffitt says, “you’ll watch a trailer of the latest
romantic movie, and the next time you search for movie times at the local
theater, that movie will be prominently displayed.”

Also on the horizon, contextual searches may be teamed up with the Internet
of Things
, a euphemism used to describe an inter-connected network of
devices large and small, reporting data on what’s going on around them.

“Imagine a part in your car sending a malfunction signal that schedules your
car for a repair appointment,” Proffitt says, “followed up by an automated
function that checks your calendar online and schedules the appointment for
you. Or, consider a hydro-sensor in your garden that sends you a message to let
you know the plants need more water.”

This is just the tip of what the Internet of Things will do, according to

“Coupled with contextual searching, it could transform our online experience
to something where, instead of us searching for knowledge, objects and machines
around us will be delivering information to us or taking direct action,” he
says. “Clothes could grow more opaque if the UV rating is too high on a given
day. Pricing information for a new TV in the electronics store might display
right on your phone. Nutrition information for cupcakes in your favorite

“It will all be there at your fingertips.”

Contact: Brian Proffitt, 574-383-9257,


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