I’m a bit delayed in posting this, but here’s my Search Insider column from last week, continued in the extended entry.
The Hunt for Search Engine Innovation, Part 2
GOOGLE SHOULDN’T REST on its laurels just yet. Last week,
we blazed through
Charles Knight’s Top 100 Alternative Search Engines and found many areas
where innovation was lacking. This week, we’ll visit some of the high-impact
innovation categories and engines.
Sorting the engines into categories isn’t a perfect science, as
many engines are hybrids. URL.com is a meta-search engine combined with
user rankings, Ujiko combines a graphic display with user
ratings, Exalead combines category filtering
with image search, and Polymeta is a metasearch engine with
filtering based on keywords and categories that also includes vertical and
multimedia search. Don’t try too hard to sort it all out; by and large the most
impressive engines have a clearer value proposition. Let’s see what they’re made
- Vertical niches: Goshme, discussed last week, aims to aggregate
all vertical engines in one place. On the Top 100 list, the most innovative
vertical search engine is Like.com. Microsoft’s recent
Medstory acquisition also signals that the major engines are watching the
After last week’s column, Jessi Zambrano wrote about Indeed.com, a job
metasearch engine not included on Mr. Knight’s Top 100 list. Job search engines
have been among the most successful innovators, and they’ve also been among the
priciest search-related acquisitions. Searching for jobs is also one of the few
search activities that truly matters to consumers’ lives. Compare shopping
search (“I want a good deal on something I plan on buying”) with job search (“I
want a new/better job”), health search (“I’m trying to diagnose/care for myself
or a loved one”), and dating search (“I’m lonely”/”I want to start a family”).
The latter three categories really matter, so expect search pioneers to emerge
from them. I’d include some kind of food search in that bunch, but once you’re
online, searching for food is generally not a matter of fulfilling primal
necessities but finding a decent takeout joint.
- Multimedia search: Here’s where there’s the most need for
improvement, and several startups have a leg up on the major engines — for now.
The Top 100 list includes just a few examples of multimedia search engines, and
they focus on video. Blabline is simply a Google Custom Search
Engine. Clipblast bills itself as the world’s
largest video search engine, though I’m not sure how it defends the title (my
bet: the honor goes to YouTube, MySpace, or most likely Google). Blinkx has the
most momentum, and it’s a favorite of Search Insider columnists; Aaron Goldman
recently wondered if Google should buy
Blinkx, and I predicted back in January 2005 that it was a ripe acquisition
- Semantic Web: It’s getting harder and harder to write about any form
of Internet innovation without factoring in the semantic web. John Markoff
recently covered the topic in The New York Times, and by the time the
Times gets to reporting on technology, you know it’s old news. The one
semantic engine on the Top 100 list is Swoogle,
a database impenetrable to anyone without a computer science degree (I can,
however, tell you the difference between a rondeau and a villanelle).
That Swoogle is hard to parse is in a way ironic, as the gist of
the semantic Web, to oversimplify it, is to provide a way for all forms of
online content to better understand themselves and each other. For instance, if
a search engine or other content site were to index or link to this column
through the lens of the semantic Web, it would know that this column has
everything to do with search engine innovation and nothing to do with obscure
forms of poetry. It would also realize that Aaron Goldman is an esteemed
MediaPost columnist and not this septuagenarian who has jogged 200 miles in 72 hours, and it would surely
never mistake me for the more infamous individual who shares my name. In the
most utopian visions for the semantic Web, such as those shared at a DoubleClick
Industry Insighters Salon earlier this month, the Web will be so adept at
understanding your own interests and wants that you won’t need to search for
anything at all.
That’s one of those beautiful ideals, to become so good that you
make yourself irrelevant. Could we really get there one day with search?
It’s unlikely. Even if any form of search became that good, we’re
still hunters and gatherers at heart. We’ll always want the empowerment of
thinking that searching is a skill, and if the right result is presented to us,
we’ll take the credit, even if a computer programmer or algorithm actually made
it happen. That means that the ideal search engine of the future, the standard
every engine should shoot for that truly gives consumers what they want, will be
one step shy of perfection.