What is personal data?
Someone rightly pointed out that personal data online is the other half of the web. Websites are one half, and your data stored in various cloud based services is the other half. All your email, files, contacts, social network data, photos etc. constitute your personal data.
Why is personal data search important?
a) You spend more time looking in your personal data than in public data
This is the data that you look for most often – that important email you received from your boss, the quote that Oprah tweeted, the video that your roomie shared on Facebook, your resume, the designer boots that you had pinned on Pinterest etc.
b) Your data is scattered
As you sign up to more and more services – social networking (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn), repositories (Dropbox, Box), utilities (Salesforce.com, Sharepoint, Evernote) – you generate more and more data and your data continues to scatter further. This dramatically increases the need to have a mechanism to search across your personal data.
Let’s take a simple example of all your contacts – Your contacts are in your email address book, your LinkedIn account and your Facebook account. Now if you need to find one specific contact, you need to get into each contact list and carry out a search. A personal data search engine lets you find a specific contact across all your contact lists.
c) Native search functionality leaves us wanting for more
While online services are concentrating on providing a great platform for users to create data, they tend to ignore providing a great search on the data that is created. For eg. Twitter – you cannot search beyond 10 days, you cannot search in your own tweets, you cannot search in your follower’s tweets, you cannot even search in your own direct messages and favourites. The same goes for Facebook, while your news feed and wall are the most important elements of your account, you cannot reliably search on them.
Will existing search engines evolve to include personal data?
It would be very tough (read impossible) for existing search engines to include personal data into their realm of search. While it might have its own set of technology challenges, that’s not what will hold them back.
a) They will stop each other
Historical proof – Twitter denied Google access to its firehose. If users are able to find tweets on searching in Google, the search queries on Twitter.com will reduce. Therefore, ad revenue on Twitter search will decrease. Similarly, Facebook would not expose its data to Google. Remember how Google responded to Facebook? They will continue to fight.
b) They will be their own enemies in this case
If Google wished to include personal data into search results, they would essentially be making it easier for users to access Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox, Microsoft Exchange etc. all of whom are competitors to Google in one way or another. This will this piss off a lot of people at Google for sure.
c) They will be biased
Google tried to include personal data in their search results – Search Plus Your World. What did they do? They started giving priority to the data from their assets. Twitter slammed Google for prioritizing results from Google+. Would Google treat Facebook, Exchange and Dropbox data with equal importance as Google+ data?
There are a handful of startups who have built solutions to address this problem, ours being one of them – CloudMagic. We’ve been working on this for more than 2 years, and have never felt more strongly about the gaping need for a personal data search service.