Gary Price of ResourceShelf interviews Gary Flake of Yahoo Labs. I’ve spent a number of very interesting hours with Flake, the interview makes for a good introduction to his way of thinking. Also see the extended interview, here…
RS: Now, an obvious question. What’s wrong with web search today?
GF: It’s easier for me to point to what web search should be and then highlight the differences. If web search was perfect, then it would produce an answer to every query that would be as good—or better—than if the smartest people in the world had as much time, data, and contextual information (about the user) required to fulfill the query; and it would do all of this in a split second. In other words, the search engine would be an artificial intelligence (AI) so smart that if a correct answer could be found in theory with close to infinite resources, then it would find it. If a correct answer did not exist, then the search engine would give you the next best thing: an approximation, or perhaps even an explanation as to why your query has no perfect result. (And by the way, if we realized all of the above within my lifetime, I would consider myself lucky. That should give you an idea of what sort of time frame I am talking about.) Alternative interfaces, like cell phones, voice, and snazzy graphical results are all nice, but in the end they represent relatively easy technology problems when compared to the challenges involved in realizing our hypothetical search engine. What really matters is what is under the hood.