The new search era, where are we?

I have been damn lazy to write this post, but recently after reading a RWW post, 11 Search Trends That May Disrupt Google, I decided to gather my thoughts here.

Adding to the RWW post, let me try to bring up some minus and plus of todays search era ruled by Google & partly Yahoo/MS.

Things which are still not touched efficiently by the popular search engines:

  • Natural language Processing:
    • We would like all questions like “Which is the world’s tallest mountain peak?” to be answered on search: Google/Yahoo could not answer it, but to my surprise did it! Still, we have to wait for a breakthrough.
    • Ignoring stop words, doing word stemming, etc. can really change the meaning significantly. For eg, searching Apples on google, returns results mainly for Apple Inc.
  • Multi-lingual search: Web being driven with focus on US market, problems of the rest of the world (especially eastern world) do not really get sufficient attention. Today’s web search experience does not have multi-lingual features!
    I spent couple of years during my masters at Media Lab Asia, IIT Bombay, under Prof. Krithi, with people working on Multi-lingual search for project Multi-lingual search works pretty good here. Try searching “onion” or “कांदा“, you get identical results :) . Such a search experience on the whole web, will be awesome!
  • Treatment of Symantec data: Lot of standard formats have emerged like RDFs, microformat, RSS, etc, but still they are treated in almost same way as other web pages.
  • Personalization & Data mining: There are a few signs of google personalizing the results. But, nothing significant yet!
  • Multimedia search: None of the search engines is doing a great job here, which is attributed to complex and computationally expensive image processing. But, pretty significant research is up for the same in Google, Yahoo and Microsoft. A recent publication in WWW08 from googlers suggested a concept ImageRank, similar to PageRank which can actually work well.

Some of the cool innovations in todays search:

  • Improved UI/visualizations: UI innovations are the most prominent amongst all. Here are a few set of examples:

  • Openness/APIs: Google/Yahoo have been pretty open in terms of providing search APIs, applications, etc. Want to experience google search in a terminal: Try out
  • Specialized searches like: local/maps: Local/maps and other focussed searches like publication search, patent search, etc. are doing pretty good. Directions are now available in India also with Yahoo Maps the only provider :)

What else can be tried on search?

There are couple of things things which I think can work for search, but we need to overcome spam problems for these:

  • WikiSearch: Allow users to tag/rank search results. Something like digg/delicious for keywords…
  • Push based update notification model: Search results are not uptodate. Even for popular pages they lag by few days. Introduce a push based model, something like, it can help?

Update: Nov 20: Google has released SearchWiki, my first suggestion/prediction comes true :)

Disclaimer: All opinions are solely mine and and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of my employer.

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