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What I Want From My Search Engine

The best thing about the internet is the enormous amount of information it holds. The worse thing about the internet is the enormous amount of information it holds. Search engines are the tools designed to help people weed through the forest of data to find the precise leaf we're looking for. Even though Google does a wonderful job, I still have a very clear vision for what I want out of my 21st century search engine. In short, I need it to be much smarter - about me. Sure, now I can qualify my search queries in such a way as to more precisely return relevant results - but that's not good enough. I want it to know things about me - whatever I choose to share - and to intelligently respond based upon that personal data. Here's what I'm after:

  • If Amazon can incorporate information about my preferences and history to deliver targeted results why can't Google? I want smart results! I want the search engine to be constantly learning from my interaction with it such that it establishes a predictive aspect to what it does. In an similar way that Amazon can suggest books or music to me based upon my past purchases and ratings, I want my search engine to deliver personalized results. For example, if I search for "lenses" wouldn't it be cool if the SE knew that I wasn't talking about eye glasses or my retina but about cameras? I want my search engine to know that I am a Nikon shooter and to show me not just Nikon lenses, but the ones that I don't already own. If I input my favorite author wouldn't it be cool if my search engine knew what Walter Mosley books I had already read and could return a list of his books - starting with the ones I haven't read yet? Wouldn't it be cool if I input "NFL" and if it was during the season it knew who my fantasy players were and returned timely data on them first - and then data about my favorite teams?

  • I am one of those who certainly understands the need for privacy and security of personal data. That said, I am willing to prudently divulge personal information if I can benefit from it. I would be willing to complete both a demographic and psychographic survey to enable my search engine to be much smarter about its results to me based upon who I am and how I think. If my search engine could know that I am in my mid 40's and a father of four young boys, that I am a marketer/entrepreneur, and that I grew up in New England but now live in Atlanta - as well as what my Myers Briggs reading is and what my over-all personality type is and the things that I value in life etc. - I've got to think it could deliver much more accurate and targeted responses. If it knew that I am African American and enjoy social networking and live in Atlanta why couldn't my intelligent search engine proactively suggest a new online social community for Atlanta African American dads?

  • Based upon my IP address, the search engine knows where I am and could, seemingly, incorporate that into its returns. Shouldn't I just be able to input "parks" and get results within a 25 mile radius of me - (and have pictures of the parks and their hours and costs and perhaps restaurants or other relevant locations nearby)? If I input "Michael Jackson", shouldn't my search engine be able to immediately return results of the closest concert dates to my location? I know Google is starting to do this, but it would seem that a greater degree of personalized detail would make it even more useful. (It goes without saying that if I am searching on a mobile device with a GPS that my search results should be matrixed by my location.)

  • Social networking has become a major component of the online experience; I know it certainly has for me! I very much respect the opinions and perspectives of my various networks of friends and colleagues and love being connected to them. Wouldn't it be cool if I could retrieve search results tapping into the collective insights from my network of family and friends about something personal or my business colleagues for a business matter? For example, if I input "restaurant" wouldn't it be cool if the results came back based upon both my location and the preferences of my local personal contacts? If I input "advertising agency" wouldn't it be cool if I could get search results that reflected the insight of my business network? This obviously entails the integration of search with social networking, but I see huge potential and power in this concept.

  • The current look for search engines comes from a time when large portions of users accessed the internet via slow dial-up connections. While I enjoy the clean look of a Google page, it really is quite archaic. I'm a visual person, moved by what I see. With current high speed penetration increasing every day, why can't I choose to have a much more graphic experience for my searches? Why can't I see a page of clickable images that reflect the sites returned from a search - perhaps something like the way delivers current news or the way lets you scroll through web pages - but, oh, about five generations more sophisticated? I'd like something dynamic and graphic intensive that lets me actually see the fabric and texture of the data that is given me.

    These items wouldn't seem to be monumentally difficult - particularly for Google, a company that is a veritable wellspring of innovation. No doubt companies are working on even more advanced search concepts; I guess I'm just impatient! While the privacy issues might present something of an obstacle, people should be able to opt in and divulge (or not) whatever data they wish - with the associated impact on their search results to follow. Maybe someone invents something that resides on the desktop that could acts as a confidential 'data sift', utilizing personal information, web and search histories to customize search results from the web that would filter and customize the search engine's responses?

    At the end of the day I'm fairly confident that this is the general direction that search has to go in. The "Semantic Web" - a smarter and more intuitive web experience - is ostensibly where Net thinkers are hoping to take things. Finding ways to funnel more of what individual users are interested in from the vast wilderness of data in the internet is the key to the future. That key would seem to be a hugely monetizable benefit - generating greater clicks by users who are getting results just for them and, therefore, allowing search engines to charge more for their ads. Let's keep our eyes peered. A 'personal web' is coming! :-)
  • © MBM

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    While I can appreciate how others would see this as a plus... for me, movement toward divulging personal information even for the noble goals of convenience and efficiency would make me eliminate social interaction completely (I already have serious misgivings/regrets about prior personal stuff I've posted- folx already tryna do research on me so I'm not inclined to make it any easier). I would end up focusing my internet activity to very specific functions where I wouldn't mind or could not avoid "public" access...
    News from Milken Global: Search engines of the future


    Predictive searching will someday replace traditional search engines like Google, said Sun Microsystems CTO Greg Papadopoulos. Papadopoulos says that soon every electronic device will be networked together, allowing the search engines of the future to simply know what a user wants based on past behavior. Papadopoulos was one of many tech luminaries speaking at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Los Angeles for a panel on the future of computing. Read the full post by SmartBrief on Leadership contributing editor Liz Ruskin.
    I dunno ... maybe I'm kinda slow, but ....

    isn't part of the concept of a search engine to search for things that aren't already what you know or are looking for?? Confused

    I mean ... if I know what I want or where it is I can just go there directly. If I'm looking for things outside of my normal knowledge-base, that's when I would go to a search engine to hunt for suggestions about it, right?? 19

    I DEFINITELY don't want a machine trying to anticipate me and what I want! Eek (Maybe I've watched too many Sci Fi movies! Big Grin) And, to Ms. K's point, the (lack of) privacy issues would be almost overwhelming for me!

    I think I like my search engine just the way it is! Smile
    No, MBM ... I'm not a regular Amazon visitor. Smile

    Nor am I a regular Internet purchaser. I like to see and touch what I'm about to buy unless there's just no other way around it!

    I do understand what you're trying to say, though. But, I think the difference for me is that I use search engines of more of an educational/knowledge/research-type vehicle to 'broaden my horizons' about things that I am NOT familiar with ... moreso than looking for something to reinforce or compound or confirm that that I already know ... if that makes sense? Confused
    Originally posted by EbonyRose:
    No, MBM ... I'm not a regular Amazon visitor. Smile

    Nor am I a regular Internet purchaser. I like to see and touch what I'm about to buy unless there's just no other way around it!

    I do understand what you're trying to say, though. But, I think the difference for me is that I use search engines of more of an educational/knowledge/research-type vehicle to 'broaden my horizons' about things that I am NOT familiar with ... moreso than looking for something to reinforce or compound or confirm that that I already know ... if that makes sense? Confused

    "Smart" search would merely incorporate your interests into their search findings to give you even more relevant responses based upon who you are. Instead of you having to fish through pages of search results, THE most relevant responses would come up.
    Originally posted by MBM:
    Originally posted by EbonyRose:
    No, MBM ... I'm not a regular Amazon visitor. Smile

    Nor am I a regular Internet purchaser. I like to see and touch what I'm about to buy unless there's just no other way around it!

    I do understand what you're trying to say, though. But, I think the difference for me is that I use search engines of more of an educational/knowledge/research-type vehicle to 'broaden my horizons' about things that I am NOT familiar with ... moreso than looking for something to reinforce or compound or confirm that that I already know ... if that makes sense? Confused

    "Smart" search would merely incorporate your interests into their search findings to give you even more relevant responses based upon who you are. Instead of you having to fish through pages of search results, THE most relevant responses would come up.

    Okay, .... well I guess that doesn't seem so bad. Smile
    An invention that could change the internet for ever

    Revolutionary new web software could put giants such as Google in the shade when it comes out later this month. Andrew Johnson reports

    Sunday, 3 May 2009

    The biggest internet revolution for a generation will be unveiled this month with the launch of software that will understand questions and give specific, tailored answers in a way that the web has never managed before.

    The new system, Wolfram Alpha, showcased at Harvard University in the US last week, takes the first step towards what many consider to be the internet's Holy Grail – a global store of information that understands and responds to ordinary language in the same way a person does.

    Although the system is still new, it has already produced massive interest and excitement among technology pundits and internet watchers.

    Computer experts believe the new search engine will be an evolutionary leap in the development of the internet. Nova Spivack, an internet and computer expert, said that Wolfram Alpha could prove just as important as Google. "It is really impressive and significant," he wrote. "In fact it may be as important for the web (and the world) as Google, but for a different purpose.

    Tom Simpson, of the blog, said: "What are the wider implications exactly? A new paradigm for using computers and the web? Probably. Emerging artificial intelligence and a step towards a self-organising internet? Possibly... I think this could be big."

    Wolfram Alpha will not only give a straight answer to questions such as "how high is Mount Everest?", but it will also produce a neat page of related information – all properly sourced – such as geographical location and nearby towns, and other mountains, complete with graphs and charts.

    The real innovation, however, is in its ability to work things out "on the fly", according to its British inventor, Dr Stephen Wolfram. If you ask it to compare the height of Mount Everest to the length of the Golden Gate Bridge, it will tell you. Or ask what the weather was like in London on the day John F Kennedy was assassinated, it will cross-check and provide the answer. Ask it about D sharp major, it will play the scale. Type in "10 flips for four heads" and it will guess that you need to know the probability of coin-tossing. If you want to know when the next solar eclipse over Chicago is, or the exact current location of the International Space Station, it can work it out.

    Dr Wolfram, an award-winning physicist who is based in America, added that the information is "curated", meaning it is assessed first by experts. This means that the weaknesses of sites such as Wikipedia, where doubts are cast on the information because anyone can contribute, are taken out. It is based on his best-selling Mathematica software, a standard tool for scientists, engineers and academics for crunching complex maths.

    "I've wanted to make the knowledge we've accumulated in our civilisation computable," he said last week. "I was not sure it was possible. I'm a little surprised it worked out so well."

    Dr Wolfram, 49, who was educated at Eton and had completed his PhD in particle physics by the time he was 20, added that the launch of Wolfram Alpha later this month would be just the beginning of the project.

    "It will understand what you are talking about," he said. "We are just at the beginning. I think we've got a reasonable start on 90 per cent of the shelves in a typical reference library."

    The engine, which will be free to use, works by drawing on the knowledge on the internet, as well as private databases. Dr Wolfram said he expected that about 1,000 people would be needed to keep its databases updated with the latest discoveries and information.

    He also added that he would not go down the road of storing information on ordinary people, although he was aware that others might use the technology to do so.

    Wolfram Alpha has been designed with professionals and academics in mind, so its grasp of popular culture is, at the moment, comparatively poor. The term "50 Cent" caused "absolute horror" in tests, for example, because it confused a discussion on currency with the American rap artist. For this reason alone it is unlikely to provide an immediate threat to Google, which is working on a similar type of search engine, a version of which it launched last week.

    "We have a certain amount of popular culture information," Dr Wolfram said. "In some senses popular culture information is much more shallowly computable, so we can find out who's related to who and how tall people are. I fully expect we will have lots of popular culture information. There are linguistic horrors because if you put in books and music a lot of the names clash with other concepts."

    He added that to help with that Wolfram Alpha would be using Wikipedia's popularity index to decide what users were likely to be interested in.

    With Google now one of the world's top brands, worth $100bn, Wolfram Alpha has the potential to become one of the biggest names on the planet.

    Dr Wolfram, however, did not rule out working with Google in the future, as well as Wikipedia. "We're working to partner with all possible organisations that make sense," he said. "Search, narrative, news are complementary to what we have. Hopefully there will be some great synergies."

    What the experts say

    "For those of us tired of hundreds of pages of results that do not really have a lot to do with what we are trying to find out, Wolfram Alpha may be what we have been waiting for."

    Michael W Jones,

    "If it is not gobbled up by one of the industry superpowers, his company may well grow to become one of them in a small number of years, with most of us setting our default browser to be Wolfram Alpha."

    Doug Lenat,

    "It's like plugging into an electric brain."

    Matt Marshall,

    "This is like a Holy Grail... the ability to look inside data sources that can't easily be crawled and provide answers from them."

    Danny Sullivan, editor-in-chief of

    Worldwide network: A brief history of the internet

    1969 The internet is created by the US Department of Defense with the networking of computers at UCLA and the Stanford Research Institute.

    1979 The British Post Office uses the technology to create the first international computer networks.

    1980 Bill Gates's deal to put a Microsoft Operating System on IBM's computers paves the way for almost universal computer ownership.

    1984 Apple launches the first successful 'modern' computer interface using graphics to represent files and folders, drop-down menus and, crucially, mouse control.

    1989 Tim Berners-Lee creates the world wide web – using browsers, pages and links to make communication on the internet simple.

    1996 Google begins as a research project at Stanford University. The company is formally founded two years later by Sergey Brin and Larry Page.

    2009 Dr Stephen Wolfram launches Wolfram Alpha.
    Originally posted by MBM:

    ER - do you ever go on They have a great predictive engine that can suggest all manner of products to you based upon your past behavior there. That's what I'm talking about.

    I like that feature on Amazon. It's cool. Each time i go there i see book suggestions that i prolly wouldn't have found on my own, but i'm not sure how that would translate on a search engine.

    The only thing i want is to eliminate the bajillion pages of totally unrelated sites that come up and only 1 or 2 are about what you actually searched. I don't want a zillion results. I just want 10-20 good ones.
    Check this out!

    New search engines aspire to supplement Google

    (CNN) -- We may be coming upon a new era for the Internet search.

    And, despite what you may think, Google is not the only player.

    New search engines that are popping up across the Web strive to make searches faster, smarter, more personal and more visually interesting.

    Some sites, like Twine and hakia, will try to personalize searches, separating out results you would find interesting, based on your Web use. Others, like Searchme, offer iTunes-like interfaces that let users shuffle through photos and images instead of the standard list of hyperlinks. Kosmix bundles information by type -- from Twitter, from Facebook, from blogs, from the government -- to make it easier to consume.

    Wolfram Alpha, set to launch Monday, is more of an enormous calculator than a search: It crunches data to come up with query answers that may not exist online until you search for them. And sites like Twitter are trying to capitalize on the warp-speed pace of online news today by offering real-time searches of online chatter -- something Google's computers have yet to replicate.

    Google, of course, remains the search king. Recent efforts to revolutionize Web searching have failed to unseat the dominant California company, which captures nearly 64 percent of U.S. online searches, according to comScore. Tech start-ups like Cuil, which billed itself as more powerful than Google, and Wikia, which relied on a community to rank search results rather than a math formula, have largely faded away after some initial buzz. Timeline: the history of searching for data »

    "The general trend has been relatively clear and consistent for the past five years: Google is growing its market share at the expense of every other engine," said Graham Mudd, vice president for search and social media at comScore, a company that tracks industry trends.

    The new class of search engines and data calculators enters the fray with those failures in mind, though. Instead of trying to be Google killers, these sites have more humble aspirations: to be alternatives to the industry giants.

    Real-time searches offer the most promise, Mudd said.

    If you search Google news, the results will be recent, but not live. That's where Twitter's search comes in. It searches the site's micro-blog posts by the second, allowing users to see what's buzzing on the Web at any instant.

    Facebook and FriendFeed also are experimenting with real-time searches, according to news reports. But each of these searches operates only within its own social network. Scoopler is another real-time site that's trying to aggregate info from all of these sites.

    Nova Spivack, a technology developer who writes about search engines, said sites that forecast trendy topics will become more prominent. Knowing what will be trendy tomorrow is becoming valuable to more people, he said. Search trend predictions will be valuable to people interested in news in much the same way as stock forecasts are valuable to financial industry workers.

    "The topography of the Web is shifting much faster. Instead of happening kind of glacially, you're on the beach right where the water is coming in and it's constantly changing the way the sand is laid out," he said.

    Other search sites are just trying to get smarter, with some acting as giant data crunchers.

    The much-talked about Wolfram Alpha, or Alpha for short, harnesses massive computing power to answer users' questions, even if they're never been answered on the Web before. Watch a Wired editor discuss the site »

    "It's not a new Google. It's not supposed to be. It's a new thing. It's very complimentary, in a way, to what search engines do," said Theodore Gray, co-founder of Wolfram Research, which created Alpha.

    People need to get away from the idea that every 3-inch-long search bar online acts just like Google and Yahoo!, he said.

    If you ask Google a question, the search engine's computers scan the Web for matching search terms and come up with answers that make the most sense statistically. Alpha, by contrast, pulls information from existing data sets that have been approved by the site's math-minded staff. The site then computes an answer to your question.

    An example will help this make sense.

    Say you wanted to find out nutritional information for your favorite recipe. On Google, you would have to search each ingredient individually and then add the calories and fat grams together yourself. With Alpha, you can type in the full recipe and the site produces a completed graphic that looks like it came right off the side of a cereal box. Read about a CNN test of 'Alpha'

    Some search sites are trying to get better at understanding what their users want.

    Twine, a social site created by Spivack, soon will start incorporating information about its users into a search function, he said. Some of the information comes through a user's search history. The site also will ask users to rank search results by their relevance to your interests.

    "Right now, one of the problems with search is that it's really one-size-fits-all. It's not very personalized," Spivack said. "The fact is when I'm searching for certain kinds of things, the way that the results should be ranked might quite be different than if someone with a very different background or interests was searching for those same things."

    So if you're someone who is into heavy science, a search about evolution might yield more academic papers. If you're a person whose Web interests lean more toward pop culture, an evolution search might turn up photos and more basic information.

    Helping computers understand the information that's online is the next step in making searches more personal, Spivack said.

    It's unclear which companies, if any, will be able to accomplish this, but Google appears to be working on the problem.

    "Perfect search requires human-level artificial intelligence, which many of us believe is still quite distant," Google co-founder Sergey Brin writes in a staff letter published last week on Google's blog. "However, I think it will soon be possible to have a search engine that 'understands' more of the queries and documents than we do today.

    "Others claim to have accomplished this, and Google's systems have more smarts behind the curtains than may be apparent from the outside, but the field as a whole is still shy of where I would have expected it to be."

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