Early in my programming career, when I started dealing with customers, a wise marketing fellow passed on this pearl of wisdom, “No one needs a drill. People need holes. Sell the ability to make the holes they need.”
This was in response to my feeble attempt to explain to a non-computer user, which was almost everyone in 1988, why this scheduling software was worth purchasing. I needed to sell the ability not to miss anything important, not the software.
I’m telling you this because web search is dead. It doesn’t know it yet, but it is.
Web search, whether it’s Google, Bing, DuckDuckGo, etc. work by trying to find websites that can answer the query you just asked. Except that most of the time you’re not looking for a website. You’re looking for an answer. Enter ChatGPT. (Yes, another AI column. Trust me. You’re not tired of this yet.)
Download the ChatGPT app on to your phone. Get the one titled ChatGPT “The official app of OpenAI.” You’ll have to create an account with your Apple ID, Google, or email. It’s free to use, but you need an account.
Once you’ve created an account, you’ll see some information screens informing you that ChatGPT may be inaccurate. Don’t share sensitive data, as the input is sent to their servers. And that you can control how the history of your interactions is stored. All of this is true for all search engines too.
Now you’re ready to get answers. I want to preface this by saying, sometimes you do want websites. For example: I asked ChatGPT for a list of websites to learn about ChatGPT. It gave me titles and descriptions, but didn’t give me the links. When I asked it for URLs to learn about ChatGPT it gave me the links. A good lesson in asking specifically for what you want.
This is different than how we search now. We tend to search in general terms in hopes of casting a wide enough net to get the answer we want. Except what we get is a list of thousands, millions, or billions of websites where we may find the answer we want. When I asked Google the same question about learning ChatGPT I got 271,000,000 results. Were any of them what I wanted? Maybe.
It’s the drills and holes situation all over again. ChatGPT isn’t selling me a drill. Not only that, it isn’t selling me anything. There are no ads, no fluff, just an answer.
As a test, I asked ChatGPT and Google, “How much and when should I hill potatoes?”
ChatGPT (edited for space): 1. At 15-20cm 2. Mound soil around base covering 10-15cm of stem and leaves 3. Repeat every 2 to 3 weeks.
Google 19,400,000 results. The first result had pretty much the same answer as ChatGPT, but I had to go there. The results on the rest of the page varied.
Now, sometimes you want a bunch of different results. When I’m attempting to cook something new, I will read a dozen variations on different sites looking for commonalities and variances, techniques, and suggestions. Then I try and synthesize all that into making it.
When I asked ChatGPT for a recipe for strawberry rhubarb pie, it gave me a recipe. Ingredients and directions only. Again, just an answer.
There is a lot of chatter about how AI is going to change the world. It will.
It’s the new “car.” The car changed our world. Some things became obsolete. Other things sprung into being. Will it be better or worse? Did the car change our world for the better or worse? Worse if you’re measuring CO2. Better if you’re in the back of an ambulance racing to the hospital in minutes instead of a day by horseback.
AI, like most tools, will do exactly what we ask it to do. If there is risk it lies within us. But there is also much to gain. Unless, of course, you’re making your money selling ads on pages returning lists of websites instead of answers.