Search can still do with a lot of improvements. Google reigns right now, but various people and companies are working on alternatives. Technology Review examines the options:
For example, theres Teoma, which ranks results according to their standing among recognized authorities on a topic, and Australian startup Mooter, which studies the behavior of users to better intuit exactly what theyre looking for. And then theres the gorilla from Redmond: Microsoft is turning to search as one of its next big business opportunities. Its researchers are devising a new operating system that melds Google-like search functions into all Windows programs, as well as software that scours the Web for definitive answers to questions you phrase in everyday English.
Whichever technology hooks tomorrows Web surfers, its builder will earn enormous influenceand handsome profits. Some 550 million search requests are entered every day worldwide (245 million of them in the United States). By 2007, the paid-placement advertising revenue generated by all these searches will reach about $7 billion, says Piper Jaffray analyst Safa Rashtchy. Yet surveys indicate that almost a quarter of users dont find what theyre looking for in the first set of links returned by a search engine. Thats partly because the precious needles of information we seek are buried under a haystack that grows by some 60 terabytes every day. And its why brutal competition in the search industry is certain to continue, especially as search companies usher in a host of advanced technologies, such as natural-language processing and machine learning. Over the next five to ten years, says Rashtchy, we could see massive improvements that provide orders-of-magnitude increases in relevancy and usage. And its the competition to deliver those improvementsmuch more than the success or failure of Googles rumored IPO, expected by many to happen this springthat is likely to determine how we will be navigating the Web a few years from now.