Next-Generation Search: Marketers To Try And Use Consumers' Own Games and Cell Phone Cameras To Spy

In an eerie snapshot of where some top marketers want to take the next generation of search engines, a Japanese government-backed research project is working on a search that is based on what a user does, not a keyword a user types in.

But the specific tactics being considered—and detailed in a Web site for the group officially dubbed the Information Grand Voyage Project—includes searching history of game programs, blog postings, surreptitiously captured video segments from TVs and computers, tracking Wi-Fi locations and using an RFID reader connected to a cell phone to identify a consumer's activities "based on data captured by mobile device camera."

"In order to obtain behavioral history, an activity widely considered troublesome, this system incorporates such data-gathering into the entertainment phase in TV games," the site said, describing the work being done by a participating company called Blogwatcher.

The project has quite a few prominent companies behind it, including Japan Airlines International, NTT DoCoMo, NTT Data, Oki Electric Industry, Datacraft and the International Medical Information Center.

The Blogwatcher discusses sophisticated text analysis that would "extract meta-data from the information that a user created on his/her personal computer and mobile device." It would also try and leverage location information "obtained by PSPs, Nintendo DS and notebooks" with built-in GPS.

But the techniques also include using store-based RFID and POS data to determine a user's "behavioral characteristics within department store" and "response to sale." Another example is tracking where someone is walking and what their heartbeat is at a given time using GPS and sensor data.

Searches could also be molded for users by using contactless cards and POS to determine when they go into a brick-and-mortar store and when they visit an online store. All of the data amassed from these methods would be used in searches that would normally depend on keywords.

The project would also link "real-world services" like shopping and dining with "cyberspace services" like online recommendations and services using the popular IC non-contact transport cards, which gauge when a user gets on and off the subway or makes a purchase.

This research is driven by 10 companies that have teamed up to address what they see as an "environment in Japan (that) is not sufficiently conducive to making effective use of this rapidly growing mountain of information to create new business or innovation," according to the project Web site.

"The key to solving this issue lies in developing a technology that effectively searches and analyzes the multitude of information in order to locate information required by the user," the Project outline states. "A method for finding what you are looking for, combining the results, and using them to your advantage will become a very important issue from the viewpoint of strengthening Japan's productivity and competitiveness."

One of the 10 companies involved, NTT DoCoMo, is "examining an ‘activity-linked search service' that collects and analyzes the user's daily activities to provide information matched to the user's taste, without the user having to be concerned about keywords."

The overall project is focused on three areas: next-generation Web services, new social infrastructure IT services and privacy-conscious future-oriented services, says the project site. Field testing of the research began in 2007 and will run until the end of fiscal 2009.