Monday, May 25, 2009

Changes in the World of Search

Following Google's recent Searchology event, where the search giant unveiled a number of new search features, both Yahoo! and Microsoft have revealed their plans to change the way we search the web.

Following much speculation and chatter on the web, Microsoft confirmed it is ready to launch its newest search engine, code named Kumo, this week. Microsoft is expected to launch Kumo during the Wall Street Journal 'D: All Things Digital Conference'. The name Kumo which literally translates to “cloud” or “spider” was among a host of names which have been mentioned in relations to a possible rebranding of Live Search. Yahoo! on the other hand has announced that they want to restructure its offering to actually change how we search. Sources at both Microsoft and JWT have confirmed that the launch will be driven by a major advertising campaign created by JWT.

Yahoo! described their new approach as "
a distinct move away from the '10 blue links', or the standardised text-heavy search results page," instead they [Yahoo!] "envision the web as a series of 'objects' as opposed to 'pages', making for a more engaging user experience." Essentially they think that the results they deliver should be a collection of relevant information i.e. searching for a restaurant would deliver reviews, opening hours, menus, contact information etc.

Although Yahoo! never describes it as such, this is clearly a move towards a Semantic Web. This is great news. Instead of simply delivering a collection links that have been determined by a search algorithm working on text, users would receive information that is determined through its actual meaning. Yahoo! has referred to this as an arrangement of "

Yahoo! gave the example that a search for Beyonce would display the singer's home page, but also a list of her albums and links to tracks hosted on its music site Rhapsody.

The overall project is not new however. Officially referred to as the 'Search Monkey project', it is now over a year old and still under rigorous testing. The major downside (imho) is that the system is based on companies sending Yahoo! the data they want included in their search results. This is a system based on control. Where does UGC content fit in? Where do the bad reviews end up? To me this seems very much like a 'big brother' defined index of 'good' information - you get to see what you are allowed to see.

Regardless of how each companies search 'improvements' turnout, it's not surprising that they are each trying to improve, innovate and extend their offerings. Recent ComScore data (April this year) showed that Google has gained half a point to 64.2% of US search market share, while Microsoft (8.2%) and Yahoo! (20.4%) have both fallen.

On the Google front, there is also the up-coming release of their newest offering Google Squared (due end of May). Although many details remain a mystery, Google have described the new service as providing search results in a spreadsheet format rather than a typical links page, emphasising pure information instead of just related content. This sounds very much like a Google knowledge engine, perhaps similar to Wolfram Alpha. As such, this is probably the most exciting search news here.

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