Experts: Internet Search Still Has a Long Way to Go

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2006-06-23 Print this article Print

Search engine executives say there is still much that can be done to enhance the user's search experience.

SAN FRANCISCO—In spite of the phenomenal growth in usage of Web search, the technology is still at a very early stage and has a long and interesting future ahead of it, said members of a panel discussion on the future of search at the Supernova conference here.

But, in the June 22 discussion titled "From Search to Eternity," the panelists seemed to agree on little else.

Users have to look beyond just typing keywords in a box, according to David Sifry, founder and CEO of Technorati, a provider of real-time search.

"They have to allow discovery, with approval, of course, where we can discover what you like, want and need, and where we can also maybe present this in a different way, such as a notification or a widget on your own blog," he said.

The biggest challenge is how the industry and the providers take search "beyond the box and provide you with a 'delight experience.' That is the future and where we are trying to go," Sifry said.

Jim Lanzone, CEO of Ask.com, the fifth-ranked search engine for general search, said the industry is doing a poor job understanding user intent and needs to improve this across hundreds of categories.

"There also needs to be greater awareness that search is changing, and we need to change people's perceptions about what search is all about," Lanzone said. "We also need to make things more seamless for the user, like narrowing the gap between finding the information for them, tracking it and acting on it."

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Leila Boujnane, co-founder and CEO of Idee, which does enterprise image searching based on all the attributes of an image, as well as image tracking, believes the future of search hinges on the introduction and development of new indexing technologies that allow for better image and video searching.

The key moving forward, according to Kapenda Thomas, founder of social search engine Jookster, is awareness of the relationship between people and indexing technologies. "There also needs to be a greater innovation in the way information is found," he said.

Technorati's Sifry said speed remains a key element of search, noting that his service takes less than 5 minutes to index a blog entry after it has been posted.

The Web is all about people and what happens with them, he said, so search is now a core technology to understanding the Web in a new way: not from where the Web has come from, not just as documents and pages, but rather as an enormous river, an event stream.

"We are all now living on the Web. People are producers now, not just consumers," Sifry said. "We now have to look at how these documents are created, and the answer is that they are created by people at a certain point in time. So, you now have two additional pieces of metadata: when something happened and who did it."

The same technologies are still being used but are being applied in new and different ways, he said, adding that this does not require a significant change in technology but in the point of view of those essentially living on the Web.

General search remains the doorway to the Web, according to Ask.com's Lanzone. Its focus and innovation is squarely on search and is growing across different categories.

"People want search to be an on-demand medium, and the trick is presenting results in the way people want: relevance, speed and ease of use," he said. "A lot of our focus is on giving people the right product at the right time."

But people are not thinking about alternative ways of doing search and achieving the goals they want, he said, noting that people must realize that search is still evolving and there are more trustworthy services coming, particularly in developing areas such as image search.

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Idee's Boujnane, who acknowledged that "these are the very, very early days of image search," said technologies have to be developed that allow search for relevance and similarity, not just for keywords, which are very poor image descriptors.

"Keywords are the starting point for this rather than the endpoint. Better indexing and better, combined algorithms are key to improving this," she said.

Jookster's Thomas said the key innovation offered by his company's service is "degrees of separation of search—how many degrees of separation a person is away from you."

Read the full story on eWEEK.com: Supernova Panel: Search Far from Mature

Peter Galli has been a financial/technology reporter for 12 years at leading publications in South Africa, the UK and the US. He has been Investment Editor of South Africa's Business Day Newspaper, the sister publication of the Financial Times of London.

He was also Group Financial Communications Manager for First National Bank, the second largest banking group in South Africa before moving on to become Executive News Editor of Business Report, the largest daily financial newspaper in South Africa, owned by the global Independent Newspapers group.

He was responsible for a national reporting team of 20 based in four bureaus. He also edited and contributed to its weekly technology page, and launched a financial and technology radio service supplying daily news bulletins to the national broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corporation, which were then distributed to some 50 radio stations across the country.

He was then transferred to San Francisco as Business Report's U.S. Correspondent to cover Silicon Valley, trade and finance between the US, Europe and emerging markets like South Africa. After serving that role for more than two years, he joined eWeek as a Senior Editor, covering software platforms in August 2000.

He has comprehensively covered Microsoft and its Windows and .Net platforms, as well as the many legal challenges it has faced. He has also focused on Sun Microsystems and its Solaris operating environment, Java and Unix offerings. He covers developments in the open source community, particularly around the Linux kernel and the effects it will have on the enterprise.

He has written extensively about new products for the Linux and Unix platforms, the development of open standards and critically looked at the potential Linux has to offer an alternative operating system and platform to Windows, .Net and Unix-based solutions like Solaris.

His interviews with senior industry executives include Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, Linus Torvalds, the original developer of the Linux operating system, Sun CEO Scot McNealy, and Bill Zeitler, a senior vice president at IBM.

For numerous examples of his writing you can search under his name at the eWEEK Website at www.eweek.com.


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