The anticipatory web will change how people access and use the World Wide Web.

Screenshot of Jetblack from Walmart

I’ve been warning for a while that the greatest threat to domain names is new technology that requires less searching and browsing.

Owners of premium domains have been hurt as browsers switched from an address bar to a search bar. But what if people don’t need to search or visit a web browser at all? What if computers anticipate our needs and do the searching for us? I call this the “anticipatory web”.

The Wall Street Journal published a story today about Jetblack, a personal shopping service from WalMart. It lets people in New York City ask for product recommendations and order stuff via text message. A team of agents responds to the messages, picks up stuff, and delivers it the customer.

It’s a money-losing venture with a long-term goal: using artificial intelligence to handle the future of web interactivity:

Walmart is using Jetblack’s army of human agents to train an artificial intelligence system that could someday power an automated personal-shopping service, preparing Walmart for a time when the search bar disappears and more shopping is done through voice-activated devices, said Jetblack CEO Jenny Fleiss.

Some people confuse the idea of voice browsing with what we’re really talking about here: systems that can anticipate or respond to your needs without a visual browser.

Maybe that’s via text message:

“When I’m laying in bed at night and I’m thinking about something, rather than going to Amazon and searching, I just text,” said member Julia LeClair, co-founder of a high-end fashion e-commerce site and mother of a 1-year-old. She has asked for recommendations on which sippy cup to buy and for help planning her daughter’s recent birthday party. Jetblack recommended a theme, decorations and party favors, and then ordered the items for delivery.


Through the dialogue, the system is learning which follow up questions to ask, said Ms. Fleiss. For example, if a shopper asks for a new stroller, the system might learn to next ask “For how many children?” and “Do you need your child to nap in the stroller?”

I envision a time when your phone or voice assistant reminds you that it’s your mother’s birthday and asks, “Would you like to deliver a dozen roses for $29.95”?


And that means one less trip to a visual browser, scanning search results and clicking on a domain name.

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