The Future of Search
Most users of search engines have not given much thought to the concept of search. For the most part, their thoughts regarding search revolve around thinking up search terms to type into a rectangular box. Given that this concept of online searching has changed very little since its inception, what exactly is the future of search? This question was posed to some leading figures in the search technology industry. The following is a synopsis of some of their assessments on the future of search.
Getting a relevant answer for your search query is the central objective of online searching. An expert from Bing, Stefan Weitz, notes that relevancy in search is based on PageRank. PageRank determines the position of a web page based on the analysis of links referring to that page. He notes that relying solely on this model to find, for instance, the best cancer hospital is ridiculous. John Battelle, author of the book The Search, notes that the concept of online searching is changing. This change mainly has to do with the fact that people are asking more difficult questions. Asking more difficult questions also implies that they are seeking better answers to their inquiries, since they now know the answers are out there.
Limits of Language
Another key problem with search has to do with language. The current concept of searching relies on how well machines understand human language. Stefan Weitz illustrates this problem with searching for the term “Jaguars.” When searching the term, should the search engine return search results pertaining to the mammal, or should search results related to the vehicle be returned instead? He goes on to state that search engine crawlers must learn to do a better job of discerning this type of information, which means search algorithms must learn to decipher intent better. This can only be accomplished by imbuing the search engines with human characteristics that allow them to better understand the information they are crawling. However, Gord Hotchkiss, the interviewer, notes that since we are doing more things online now, we are leaving more signals related to our online activities, which could be used by the search engines to better determine our intent. A large part of tracking has to do with search engines being able to determine our location and other social information relative to our activities.
Search as an Application
As noted by Hotchkiss, the biggest factor that is driving search is the nature of the data. At present, we have more structured data online now when compared to the amount of data found online in the 90’s. Because data is now more structured, applications have the potential to go beyond present search capabilities. An example Battelle used was finding the best way to get form one place to another. For instance, if you typed in “Chicago car rental” for a search, but the application also knew that one of your goals was to save money, then if might suggest that you shouldn’t rent a car. Instead, the application may suggest that you use the Chicago Transit and provide you with an app for using the transit. Of course, for an application to make such decisions, it has to know more about you, which brings up another key issue of the future of search, namely, privacy.
Search and Your Privacy
Some experts argue that the usefulness of search will depend largely on how much data people are willing to entrust about themselves to search engines. This of course means giving up a certain amount of privacy. The author, Battelle, believes that because consumers see more value in search engines having more information about them, they will more willingly give up their personal feeds. Battelle also states that this will occur because consumers will come to believe that they are in a trusted relationship with the search engines. For better searches to occur, companies, such as Google and Microsoft, will have to collect huge amounts of data on us. If this is to happen, Battelle states that the bond of trust given and the social contract enacted between consumers and companies have to be well understood.
Searching and Devices
Another avenue of change for search has to do with the devices that we use to search. With the growing use of smartphone searching, searcher’s intent and expectations are going to change. The primary drive behind this change has to do with the way someone interacts with a smartphone, which is different than how he or she interacts with a desktop or tablet. A prime example of this interaction is that many individuals now speak their query. Also, Google has an application that allows searchers to snap a picture and send it to its search engine to get results. Furthermore, Shashi Seth of Yahoo believes that in 5 years or so, mobile search will overtake desktop search. The locations that he sees this occurring the fastest are in Asia and Europe.
Lastly, there is the area of advertising as it relates to search. Much revenue is garnered from searching. How those ads are delivered and the type of ad formats used is a key factor in the future of search. Seth of Yahoo believes that mobile advertising creates an opportunity to breakdown the artificial boundary that has existed between search advertising and display advertising. He believes that mobile search is going to be performed by mobile apps, which will unlikely resemble traditional search advertising. He goes on to further state that the display advertising experience on a search app on an iPad offers the kind of advertising that traditional internet display advertising has lacked. Seth sees ads and content starting to blend in such a manner that the user doesn’t view the advertisements as ads, but as part of the content, which would lead to better targeting of ads.