I’m interested in finding a place that sells the
item a lot less often.
Another difficult search is often finding the
answers to technical questions about computer
systems and software. The most useful information is often buried in a blog post (“How
I got around the infamous data loss bug with
the Whizzbang 9000”) or in a mailing list
archive. But the results there are much harder
to pick out, and mailing list archives are often
duplicated, so you have 10 hits (or more) for
essentially the same information. In many
cases, if you can’t find what you want in the
first few hits, you have to dig much deeper in
the search results to find something that suggests a useful answer.
This may seem like whining—after
all, I’d be a lot worse off without Google
making it possible to do these searches at
all. I’m not actually complaining; Google
is a terrific resource and I use it all the
time. Rather, I think this is an interesting
aspect of what gives Google its market
leadership, and I’m wondering aloud what
might disrupt that leadership.
I said earlier that my feeling about
Google’s search results is entirely subjective.
I don’t have a long-term actual data, it’s
not based on any analysis, and there isn’t
a randomized, controlled study with a sufficiently large number of people involved.
On the other hand, that kind of feeling—that
the search results just seemed better, was, I
think, a large part of what drove a shift from
AltaVista to Google some years ago.
From a business point of view, Google has
done an amazing job of keeping the interface
clean for its users, while providing ads that
make Google a lot of money.
Presumably, the ads are also
proving effective for the adver-
tisers as well, and one might
infer that Google is effective at connecting
customers with products and services they
want to purchase. In a competitive situation,
a competing search service would need to
master a revenue strategy as well as search
technology. Competing successfully with
Google is a serious challenge.
How do you provide better search
results? That’s an open question, and many
have tried without gaining much traction.
Besides the algorithms for doing the search,
you now need to have the infrastructure to
index almost all of the publicly-accessible
Web, and that’s a big problem all by itself.
The network and capital investment needed
for that is a much bigger challenge than it
was when Google started.
A different kind of answer may also be
with the “semantic Web,” an idea that Tim
Berners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web,
has been championing for the past several
years. The core idea behind the semantic Web
is that websites can (and should) provide
semantic information accessible to computers
about the information content they provide.
In theory, this gives search engines more
information about whether “home depot” is
talking about a store or a train station. It’s
still early for the semantic Web, but so far
text indexing is still the main tool we have to
I don’t think we’re done with search
on the Internet. As the Web continues to
grow, finding things on it will be increasingly challenging, and there are likely
openings for those who can really deliver
consistently better search results. The payoff for that could also be big, with the possibility of a surprisingly rapi~d shift to an alternative search provider.
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Win treese is co-author of Designing systems For Internet Commerce.
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