Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Future of Search, or, How to Beat Google

Most Microsoft workers search with Google. This comes on the heels of a widely-quoted statement by Bill Gates that Google has "done a great job on search."

Google is the champion of search results equaling a listing of decent links. But in terms of what search could--and will--be, Google's results are crude and primitive when considered from the viewpoint of the ultimate goal of search. But we don't see Google that way because at the moment, it is "state of the art."

What is it that search should be that Google, Yahoo and MSN are not? As Gates mentioned in the link above, search is still too much of a treasure hunt. You don't always find what you are seeking, or it often takes a long time to get to the place you want to go.

But the problem I was to address is the search result screen from the major players circa 2006. It's really nothing more than a list of links--some on target, some not, plus a few ads.

The way to beat Google is this: search results should be a sort of portal of information on the desired topic. If a searcher types "Paris Hilton," the results shouldn't be a list of links. The searcher should be taken to a portal page devoted to Paris. The page would include links as one small part of it. The searcher would see a number of sections or "web parts" (similar to a SharePoint page). One part would include news stories, photos on another, videos on a third, plus Wikipedia-style information on her career, a section on popular Paris blogs, and recent newsgroup postings. Many more possibilities, obviously.

The future of search is a portal results page for whatever the researcher wants--a person, a topic, a music group, etc. A portal for anything that can be searched.

I know what you're thinking. What about the "Lincoln" problem? If a searcher types lincoln, does he want the car or the president? Which portal does he get? One solution is to present the searcher with an intermediary page of several portal options, of which the searcher would select the one he wants.

Search results as just a list of links has got to go. The searcher wants a smorgasbord of information options on his desired topic. Google isn't delivering that ultimate goal, and neither is anyone else. If I were in the search business trying to knock off Google, I'd look into this with all the R&D I could muster.

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