Search: The Next Generation

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I did a post over at the SpinShark search blog about all of the interesting permutations that have come about in search with Google’s Universal Search results, and I have a couple of articles about search coming up in Internet Retailer in mid-June, so I don’t want to rehash those, but I do want to talk about some interesting developments in search.

  • Quantified Search: Wolfram Alpha is REALLY interesting (albeit rough around the edges…and there is a very good article in Wired about Wolfram by Steven Levy- The Answer Engine). Essentially, Wolfram Alpha grabs data out of publicly available databases and websites, and uses some wildly sophisticated AI to assemble a highly pertinent, fully rounded search result. Deeper and more relevant than an encyclopedia reference, and also “fresher”. Wolfram, essentially, creates an authoritative search result based on assemblage of parts. Unlike Google, which uses links and a proprietary Page Rank system to determine which, sites are relevant and authoritative; Wolfram (as far as I can tell) trusts structured, published information. This is hot stuff. It has a way to go, and it doesn’t behave terribly well for things that don’t lend themselves to obvious structure or quantification, and the index is a limited. (But, then again, it is an Alpha site!) The cool stuff happens next…what happens when you enter a query that Wolfram hasn’t seen before and it needs to assemble new data on the fly. That is really interesting. Now, let’s take it a step further, and suggest that Wolfram can become a source for unique thought. Imagine what happens if you suggest that Wolfram takes everything it knows about, let’s say, PE ratios, and ask it to apply that knowledge to what will happen next in the stock market, or ask it to take all of the assembled data about human genetics and ask it why Alzheimer’s disease exists? Wolfram is not anywhere close to that today, but it does open the door to unique knowledge application and idea formulation based on all available data. That, frankly, makes me very excited (and a bit creeped out…if Wolfram Alpha comes out with a product named HAL, we are in serious trouble…).
  • Real Time Search: Since the internet is rapidly evolving from a set of interconnected pages to a torrent of streaming information (videos, tweets, blog entries, press releases, streaming media, location and status updates, and so on) the traditional search methods of determining authority (links, age, etc) get thrown out. In almost all cases, the latest information on a given topic is more relevant than that which was posted months or years ago. This is a problem for search engines since the concept of trust (in search engine terms) can’t be applied as per usual. This lack of authority falls into Seth Godin’s High Cost of Now. So Twitter and Google are serving up real-time or near real-time search which completely negates the concept of an authoritative source. Real-time search is like listening to only the conversations started by people wearing blue pants at a party. It narrows the conversation down to a manageable size, but doesn’t provide any level of insight as to the value of the information. However, I think the trust given to real-time search results will stem from the level of trust given to the profile of the source. (So, the page rank of the blog, or of the Twitter profile, or of the Google profile (and you wonder why these have suddenly taken on increased prominence?), or of the number of active friends or fans you have on your Facebook profile will become the determinative factor of how well regarded (and relevant) your personal or corporate stream of data will be. I believe that these calculations will take place on the fly, be aggregated across social profiles, and this aggregation will allow you to not only listen to the blue pants conversations, but dial that in to listening to the blue pants conversations that are similar to the blue pants you really like. Real time search will become truly personal, relevant based on your aggregated profile and the aggregated profiles of those who are likely to be trusted by you. This is where the social world and the search world collide with an incredible, game-changing impact!

From search engines that think to search engines that match results to you, specifically, based on whom you trust, the world of search is spinning at an incredible rate. Search is your way of wading through them incredible world of information that is pouring through the internet in ever increasing amounts. And search engines are changing to deliver even more relevant, pertinent, trusted results to you. I am excited about the opportunities (and the search results!)

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