TECH TALK: Constructing the Memex: First Memories

For much of human civilisation, we have had a single memory device our own brain. The world around was what we remembered, or at best, what others around us remembered. Part of the reason was that it was, arguably, a much less complex world, but more importantly, it was difficult to connect with others beyond a geographical vicinity. Our memory has served as well, in general. Of course, the problem is that we will never know what we arent aware of or cannot remember.

In the past decade, the Internet has extended our world by making accessible a vast quantity of information that was unimaginable earlier in our lives. It started in the early days with bulletin boards and newsgroups, pooling together a collective of documents on a single server, and then the ease of hyperlinking combined with directories and search engines made the physical location of information irrelevant. If it was out there on the Internet, it could, in theory, be found.

For many of us, our first Internet website memories are probably linked to Yahoo. Navigating through its hierarchy of categories or doing a search across helped us get to what we were looking for. Altavista and Excite started providing search within pages, allowing us to type a word or phrase and know that there were tens of thousands of matching documents.
Google then came along and refined the process to perfection by using its PageRank algorithm, giving us results very much relevant to what we were looking for. In effect, Google became our other memory.

This is an important development. Googles relevance and consistency in returning search results has ensured that we no longer need to communicate web addresses to each other in order to find specific information. If it is out there, Google will find it for us. Just like My Yahoo helped personalise news, stock quotes and the weather for us and thus became a utility for many, Google has become a utility when it comes to helping is find information that is out hidden in the billions of pages of the Web.

Google does a great job in searching the Web. But there are still some things which it does not cover. Our own information space comprising of emails and documents is still hard to search the irony being that it is easier to find information out on the Internet than on our own hard disk! We do not have tools to search our space, but these are not integrated. There are also a large number of news sites like the New York Times and Wall Street Journal which have restricted access via subscription or registration that Google does not search.

In its efforts to provide uniformity and consistency, Google has become a mass-market search utility which is a good starting point for becoming our other memory. But it is not enough. What is missing is the context that each of us have this is embedded in the web we browse, the documents we chose to save (or email to ourselves), and the subject-matter experts we know (or would like to know).

First, let us survey the current state of the search industry.

Tomorrow: From Yahoo


Published by

Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.