One-stringed instruments

Via John Battelle’s SearchBlog, the chief of Amazon’s A9 search engine Udi Manber declares:

“Think about how the Web has changed your life in the last 10 years. Now, try to extrapolate 10 years forward and you should feel dizzy. We’re still in day one of developing and innovating in search. There’s still a lot of exciting discoveries to be made,”

In his keynote to the WWW Conference in NYC, he goes on to say:

“For most users, they expect it to be as simple as possible and that’s a barrier. If music was invented 20 years ago, we’d all be playing one-string instruments,”

which struck me at first as a statement that would make a crowd of developers chuckle, but otherwise isn’t particularly helpful.

First up: if music was invented 20 years ago then there wouldn’t be much differentiation in expertise between players and the listeners. They would probably be very happy with the one-stringed instruments, grinning like loons, thinking that this new ‘music’ stuff was where it was at.

Secondly: complaining that your ‘users’ are holding you back is not a argument most users have a lot of sympathy with, cf. Boo.

However, if one interprets it as a comment on the medium – on the difficulty in communicating with computers and through digital interfaces – then perhaps it makes sense.

If A9 and Amazon commit their resources to understanding how to play a few more strings and still get their audience humming along with them, then the search engine wars won’t be over till the fat lady sings.

Or something.

0 comments
  1. ak said:

    With the quote taken out of context, I can agree from the perspective of learning something that’s new.

    When you create the first one of a breed, it stays simple and useful. As you develop more things, you get pushback stating that it’s “diluting the original purpose”. If you continue to develop more things, you may open up doors that you didn’t see.

    With the “one-string” instrument analogy: with one string you could be happy. Add two strings and it gets confusing. Have a total of six strings and you have a guitar that can make all sorts of music. If you gave up at string #2, you wouldn’t achieve string #6.

    Sometimes you just have to wait until all the pieces gel together. Look at the difference between the original sega/atari/nintendo controllers and the latest PS2/Xbox ones. You may get something really good or fail trying. But you don’t give up

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