You might have heard about Mozilla's new mission statement, released earlier this week. It's fairly standard stuff, full of optimism and grand goals. But nestled in the epic statement is some talk that makes it sound like Mozilla's aiming for a world where search engines are no longer needed or relevant. And while that's a lofty goal, I don't think it's remotely achievable anytime soon.

The Mission Statement is so lengthy, it requires a table of contents. So much for brevity. You can read the whole thing here, and you might want to, since I'm really only going to cover the parts about search.

Does Mozilla Want To Replace Search?

One of the central themes of Mozilla's new mission appears to be improved content discovery:

"A primary role of the Web browser has been to provide "Web navigation" tools for people -- to help them "navigate" to known websites by typing URLs, and clicking links to discover new things. The role of "discovery" -- finding, often serendipitously, new websites and content, has largely been taken over by search engines and by social interactions -- receiving links from others through multiple channels. In the realm of apps and people, the browser has evolved little to help users with discovery. Discovery of the new is also increasingly driven by advertising."

Then, just a moment later, they talk specifically about search:

"The role of Firefox in assisting the user in successfully executing a search has not materially changed in several years. Search is the most popular implementation of taking a user from intent to information or an activity. The browser can, and must, do more."

Wait... is he... suggesting that we can and should move toward a future where search engines aren't necessary? A world without search engines? Because that's what it sounds like. Maybe they're just suggesting that a browser can do more for discovery, and therefore search can ultimately end up doing less?

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But the tone almost sounds bitter... the way they talk about how discovery has been "taken over" by search and social networking, like it's some kind of a hostile corporate merger. Which would definitely be misplaced anger, since Mozilla gladly took Google's money to put their toolbar on the earlier versions of Firefox, meaning they contributed to search's ability to "take over" discovery.

Why Search Won't Go Away

Pure and simple: The only way for search to become irrelevant is if someone invents a mind-reading software application.

I love my friends and family, I really do. But there's no way in heck that they're already talking about the things I typically go looking for. Nor can my past behavior, or the past behavior or millions, truly inform you about what my next action might be.

Do you have any idea how often people use Google to find answers to questions that just pop into their head? How is Mozilla going to know that my wife and I just had a disagreement over the proper cooking temperature for chicken and now we need to find an official answer? They won't. That can't be predicted by any social network or analytics data.

There are some lofty goals in the mission statement, and many are worthy of praise. Heck, I'm even all for the browser getting better at helping with discovery. But until you can tell me what I'm thinking at any given moment, there will always be a need for search engines.

  • thomas vesely

    dear mozzilla people.
    i applaud your striving for the best browser.
    may i suggest an hourly "new release"
    then we internet users can spend a significant
    amount of time putting the new version to work.
    with 6 week releases i find i still have time to surf the web.

  • Phil

    I've had a read a the statement and I personally don't think they are talking about replacing search engines with anything else, simply aiding search by implementing new ways of discovering relevant information...

  • VideoLeadsOnline

    I would guess that "past behavior" is a good indicator for "a lot" of searches... sure they won't replace Search Engines for "new" searches... but they might make a dent in "suggested" results based on "past behavior".

    Google via Gmail had done a pretty good job of suggesting places to go based on words in emails I get, I would guess that Mozilla could do similarly based on where I've been looking lately in the browser.

  • thomas vesely

    isnt that "stumbleupon" ?
    finding random recommended sites within your
    parameters of interests.
    the random search is nicely handled by
    googles new ""
    and will also enhance discovery.

  • JW

    Hi Jeremy,
    From what I garnered in reading your article, it seems that the point of Mozilla's statement is about "discovery of the new", and not necesssarily replacing search engines with automatic predictions, as you suggest. Of course, anyone wanting to know some specific piece of information would use a search engine, but I believe they are thinking more along the lines of the discovery of something you weren't particularly looking for.

    How a browser would point you to new content instead of the content itself doing so (as is the case with links and ads), is up to Mozilla to figure out. And it doesn't sound like they have more than the germ of an idea at this point.

    I'm not sure I would want to see anything other than the ads and various links of a given website, which are mostly irrelevant to me anyway. Also, I'm not particularly interested in suddenly looking at the clock and wondering where the time went while Mozilla and I were "discovering" the internet and all its wonders. Generally speaking, I don't want to find something on the internet I wasn't looking for in the first place, considering that almost everything on the internet is a complete waste of time, probably including me writing this letter to you.
    Anyway, just wanted to share some thoughts.