Having the entire web searched and responding within seconds can only satisfy the world for so long. We're demanding more. More search options, more relevancy, more accuracy. Tech companies around the world are responding to user demands and driving search engine technology into the future. Let’s talk about what that future might look like.
And you thought only your best friend could finish your sentences. With Google Instant, your search is instantly performed with each new letter that you type, saving you that extra two seconds when searching “Steve Job’s ninja” for not having to add “stars” to find the right article. This is scary/awesome for two reasons. One, it guides your search, predicting what you may be looking for faster than any search engine of our time. Two, Google has set a new standard (or level of laziness…) to which users are going to hold all search engines. We no longer want information now, we want it five seconds ago, before we remembered how to spell “stars.”
An App Engine
I don’t need to preach what the advent of the smartphone has done for the tech and communication industries. You’re probably reading this from your touch screen mobile device, debating how much more you’ll read before letting your Yelp app find a place to eat lunch. The proliferation of smartphones continues to increase our dependence on apps for every day tasks, much to the dismay of search providers who are completely cut out of the conversation you have with your app. You don’t need to consult Google on the location of that restaurant, there’s an app that will give you step by step directions, by foot, car, segway, etc. As it stands, the data from these apps is not indexed in Google or Bing, but occupies a separate space entirely. And it’s a large space, with over 250,000 apps available for iPhone alone, and over 500 new apps being created daily.
Searchblog guru John Battell predicted back in April that:
“What Apple needs is a search engine that "crawls" apps, app content, and app usage data, then surfaces recommendations as well as content . To do this, mobile apps will need to make their content available for Apple to crawl. And why wouldn't you if you're Yelp, for example? Or Facebook, for that matter? An index of apps+social signal+app content would be quite compelling. What Apple will NOT do is crawl the entire web… It's now clear to me that Apple is very serious about being the Google of the post-HTML, app-driven Internet.”
However it seems neither Apple nor Google are yet focusing their efforts on the app world, so some smaller guys have taken on the task. Appolicious and Chomp allow users to search apps by category and read endless user reviews, but neither have a complete list of apps for all the major mobile devices and neither incorporate the data being compiled each time someone uses an app. Somebody better get on it before Facebook does.
Recently acquired by (guess who?) Google, Aardvark commands “Ask a question and I’ll find someone to answer.” Instead of a system of algorithms and PageRanks, the engine sends your query to actual people who have registered themselves as “knowledgeable” on the topic. Though you run the risk of getting a less than knowledgeable answer, you have the opportunity to get unpaid, independent information on just about anything at all. The more people that learn about Vark, the more collective knowledge there will be available to tap. With complete anonymity it also has at least one leg up on Facebook Questions.
Even internet search can go green…or black. Blackle search, powered by Google, began as an experiment to prove that a search engine could go green simply by changing their color scheme. The home page keeps count of the Watt hours of energy saved so far, while the About Blackle page admits that “there has been skepticism about the significance of the energy savings that can be achieved and the cost in terms of readability of black web pages.” I’m reminded of the old phrase we use to convince ourselves that spending less on mom’s birthday present this year is ok, because, “It’s the thought that counts.” It’ll be interesting to see how other search engines adopt the green movement in years to come.
Corporate Social Responsibility these days seems to simmer down to “to whom are you donating a percentage of those profits?” While some companies' community efforts seem a vain effort to mask some less than shining decisions, there are some companies who focus on charitable options for more than just publicity reasons. Introduced in 2005, GoodSearch was started on the premise that the massive potential revenues in the search engine industry could be directed towards worthy causes. You enter a school or organization of your choosing who you’d like to receive proceeds and every search you perform on GoodSearch thereafter earns that organization 50% of the revenue generated by the sponsored search advertisers. It may not be long until all searchers are demanding such charitable efforts from their search providers.
“You know, that song that goes mmm ha doo dooo da ha mmm? Oh come on, you don't know which one I'm talking about?” Silence. Or with any luck, laughter. We’ve all been there. Not being able to remember the name or artist of a song is only topped by not remembering any of the words either. Enter, Midomi. You wouldn’t get very far searching “mmm ha doo dooo da ha mmm” on Google, so Midomi invites you to search whatever bit of a song you have in your head (preferably at least 10 seconds) and search via humming or singing. While it seems to be frequented mostly by Justin Bieber wannabes who record full songs featuring themselves, the technology is revolutionary. When search is no longer limited to text, there is a world wide web of opportunities.
On that note, what about searching for something you only have visual information on? TinEye reverse image search lets you upload an image or paste the URL of an image and search where else it is found on the web. With a slightly more specific purpose and still in Beta version, Pillbox helps you identify an unknown pill by narrowing down its attributes, such as imprint, shape, color, size, and scoring. Tag Galaxy is simply an index of Flickr photos displayed in a 3D, fun to navigate design. It’s search capabilities are nothing special or expansive, but I wouldn’t mind if all engines had such an interesting interface. I won’t be surprised if specialty search engines like these ones are developed and sold to the likes of Microsoft or Google to be incorporated into their engines.
What’s the use of all this social media posting if your witty comment is lost in cyber space right after you post it? Bing was the first to include social media feeds like Twitter and Facebook in their search results and now private engines are expanding on that idea. Collecta searches the web for blog posts, news articles, comments, tweets, and status updates for content related to your search. While sometimes this only returns rantings from 12 year olds with Twitter, it can show you who is talking and what topics are trending. DeadCellZones.com provides maps generated by consumer complaints about cell phone coverage. All the content searched during an enquiry is from others who provided feedback on where their phones and services worked, and where they were screaming “Can you hear me now?” Social search is interesting because it cuts out the middleman of web pages and just connects people. The desire to ask each other for feedback instead of relying on companies trying to push their own product is only going to get stronger.
Calculus students rejoice. There is finally a calculator that will do your homework and not cost you $80. The “Computational Knowledge Engine” asserts that: “We aim to collect and curate all objective data; implement every known model, method, and algorithm; and make it possible to compute whatever can be computed about anything.” Pretty ambitious. Also pretty awesome. They’re taking the opposite approach of most engines who are trying to read your behavior and search tendencies and instead offer “definitive answers to factual queries.” In its current infant form, most people I know use it to search their birth date and marvel at the factual data from that day in history. In its future form, though, it could give scientists, mathematicians, teachers and professors a run for their money.
There’s so many more search engines out there, and there will be even more next month, and even more the next month. Each is changing our Internet behavior bit by bit and shaping what we expect out of search engines of the future.
Now back to playing with Midomi.