Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Is Search Done? The Next Generation of Information Services

Read/Write Web notes the following comments by Tapan Bhat, Yahoo's vice president of Front Doors, at the recent NextWeb conference in Amsterdam. Tapan told attendees that search would not dominate the web in the future:
"The future of the web is about personalization. Where search was dominant, now the web is about 'me.' It's about weaving the web together in a way that is smart and personalized for the user."
Well, yes and no, Tapan. Yahoo's personalization plays are exploiting the trend towards audiences aggregating their own content from various sources, including feeds, widgets, bookmarking services and other social media tools. User-defined aggregation plays a key role in defining where and how people look for and find content. But where is most of that content coming from? Search engines power many of the mashup and widget-oriented aggregation plays that are touted as the leading edge of social media. Be it through Google or more enterprise- and media-oriented services such as MuseGlobal, Mark Logic, Nstein or Really Strategies search services are evolving into the back ends for value-add content services that place valuable content in customized contexts well beyond traditional search results. So there's no escaping the importance of search and its ability to return the most relevant and useful content.

Where Tapan may have a point is that people aren't really looking towards new search engines to solve their problems. paidContent.org noted the arrival of Ask3D, a refreshed version of the Ask.com interface that, well, looks pretty much like the old interface but a little prettier. Ask.com is a good search engine, but I think that the personalization movement is a little bit off target. It's not so much about "let me personalize my search results" as it is "tell me what I want to know." If user-defined personalization accomplishes this, great, but Google's emphasis on anticipating what users need on a more personalized basis is probably closer to what will succeed for the 80-percent crowd. As noted by Information Today the new "Universal Search" interface does a lot to customize search results to a specific context automatically, a concept that Google will expand upon as it integrates content from its wide array of search-based services even further over the past several months. For the 20 percent or less who will demand more control and features sooner there's now Google Experimental, which includes early-stage features that may make their way into the Universal toolkit soon enough.

So is search really "done" at this point? As the hottest problem to solve perhaps search is indeed past its peak, even though search engines will still continue to be refined. But the new generation of content services have search at their core and will add in feeds, Web mining and other capabilities to aggregate content on the fly far more effectively than information services have done to date. We all applaud Factiva's new integration of audio and video content into its search capability, for example, but the real proof of the pudding will be the applications that Factiva's clients choose to build off of such content. Consider search at this point the ad hoc database building tool of choice for millions of users that is only beginning to be used to its fullest extent to create highly valuable content services.
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