Me On Search

Over at SEL Gord Hotchkiss has published an interview with me on the future of search. From it: We’re going through a shift in how folks are understanding what search really means to them. And what it means to them is “I have a need and I need it fulfilled,…

Over at SEL Gord Hotchkiss has published an interview with me on the future of search. From it:

We’re going through a shift in how folks are understanding what search really means to them. And what it means to them is “I have a need and I need it fulfilled, and I’m going to use the online medium to fulfill it in some way.” We had a very, very basic, well-understood use case for 10 years, which was Google or “like Google”—you put in a couple keywords and you get a response back. And that framework of searching and coming back with the best document to answer a query is morphing. People are asking far more complicated questions now and they’re demanding far more nuanced answers, simply because they know they’re out there….

…Search as an application where your first search isn’t the search itself but rather the search for the right application is a very, very different use case. You have the market influence and dominance of one player splintered into tens of thousands of players. You or I sitting in our office over the weekend could come up with the absolute best structured search application for determining who should be your arborist to cut your trees. And that’s a threat to Google Local Search. If the best application to determine a plumber is the plumbing app on an iPhone—you download it and it automatically pulls all the local results from Yahoo!, Bing, and Google, then pulls all the reviews from Yelp and Angie’s List, then cross-compares that with complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau and Diamond Certified—if that’s the app you use, where’s Google in all of that, right?

5 thoughts on “Me On Search”

  1. Damn, John, haven’t I been saying these things for quite some time now? Information retrieval (“search”) is and always has been, for the past 40 years, about a user lacking information, having an information need, and wanting that information need filled. Google-style navigational search is a very narrow window on the broader concept of filling a user’s information need, and I’ve been trying to point this out:

    (The link above has a longer comment thread that is perhaps worth delving into.)

    Even what you’re saying, John, about the business-model problem that Google faces if it has to switch to search as an application, rather than as a destination, is something I’ve been hammering on for years:

    See for example my followup comment about the application-like interactivity (one of many possibilities: relevance feedback) that Google could be offering, but doesn’t, because the real estate on the destination results page is taken up by ads:

    Granted, I do lay out a different vision than you do for the kind of solution to the current state of search — I want the interactive application to be wrapped up into a comprehensive whole, rather than splintered into thousands of little apps. But the point is the same: Increase interactivity, increase the application-ness of search. Because my information needs have been complex since day one. I’m still waiting, after 10 years, for Google to do this.

  2. We private investigators (read= professional finder-outers) most often start our searches by asking “where could this information be?” or “when did this information exist?” and then determine the best way to access it. (See my blog post about this:

    I’m convinced, as you said in your interview with Gord, that the key to future _search_ is helping people structure their search…maybe this will happen with people becoming generally more sophisticated or else some sort of new application.

    Aardvark ( is a surprisingly effective approach. Looking to to see how that develops.

    Thanks for your insightful posts on this subject!


  3. @JG
    Amit Singhal, Google Research Fellow said recently (, “Ultimately, search is nowhere near a solved problem. Although I’ve been at this for almost two decades now, I’d still guess that search isn’t quite out of its infancy yet. The science is probably just about at the point where we’re crawling. Soon we’ll walk. I hope that in my lifetime, I’ll see search enter its adolescence.”

    In our everyday lives we search for and find “things” all the time and do it remarkably well. In fact, humans readily learn new concepts after observing a few examples and
    show extremely good generalization to new instances. In contrast, search
    services on the internet exhibit little or no learning and generalization.

    At Xyggy ( we are building an online search service platform that inherently learns and generalizes and would be happy to provide additional information.

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