Infinite isn’t what it used to be. There used to be an infinite number of stars, and probably an infinite number of kids in high school who didn’t like you very much, but that was about it when it came to a typical human being’s interaction with the uncountable.
But now, infinite is everywhere.
There’s an infinite number of books at Barnes and Noble (you can’t read em all, in fact, you can’t even find enough time to know the name of every one, or even just the first name of every author.)
There’s certainly, for all intents and purposes, an infinite number of web pages. And even Facebook, just a small subset of the web, has an infinite number of friends for you to make.
That’s where search comes in. Search makes the infinite finite (at least for a while). With search, we turn the infinite selection on Amazon into a nearly manageable finite selection. Except search (no matter where you look) is pretty lame, and it doesn’t really turn infinite collections into manageable choices. There are thousands of Godins on Facebook, too many for me to count (though one Godin friended a family member and it appears she’s trying to friend every Godin in the world–even though my name is a three-generation old fiction). There’s a lot of haystacks out there, and the needles are really good at hiding.
There are essentially an infinite number of good causes to contribute to, an infinite number of people to help, an infinite number of great records to listen to as well. The problem is finding them. Connecting. Feeling like you were successful and not missing something you really needed or wanted.
Search on the web is now grappling with this. If you know 100,000 words, names and brand names, there are now a hundred trillion different searches you can do… with only two words in combination. No, you might not want to search on Starbucks Matzoh, but you could. Just knowing what to search for is now as difficult as the search itself.
In the face of infinity, many of us are panicking and searching less, going shallower, relying on bestseller lists and simple recommendations. The vast majority of Google searches are just one or two words, and obvious ones at that. The long tail gets a lot shorter when you don’t know what’s out there.
Organizations that can help us manage the infinite are facing a huge (can I say it? nearly infinite) opportunity.