John Battelle writes about the “ability to capture and record your search history as well as the things you looked at, all in one package.”
What I really wish for, both to tell the story of my search, and to annotate my book, is the ability to take that searchstream and turn it into an object – a narrative thread of sorts, something I can hold and keep and refer to, a prop to aid in the telling and retelling of how I came to my answer. Tracks in the dust, so to speak, so others can follow and make their own, or follow mine and see (and question!) how I came to my conclusions. Imagine, I thought to myself, if instead of footnotes and citations, I could append searchstreams…
That’s when I remembered As We May Think, Vannevar Bush’s famous essay in The Atlantic. I had read it earlier in my research, and was struck not by the idea of the Memex, which is well understood, but by Bush’s explication of the problem – that knowledge and learning has become so complicated, so layered, so inefficient, that it is near impossible for anyone to be a generalist, in the sense Aristotle was. Bush’s answer to this problem was the Memex, of course, but what I find interesting is the mechanism by which the Memex is made potent – the mechanism for capturing the traces of a researcher’s discovery through the Memex’s corpus, and storing those traces as intelligence so the next researcher can learn from them and build upon them.
Searchstreams, I realized, are the DNA which will build the Memex from the flat soil of search as it’s currently understood. Engines that leverage searchstreams will make link analysis-based search (ie, nearly all of commercial search today) look like something out of the pre-Cambrian era. The first fish with feet are all around us – A9, Furl, del.icio.us. We have yet to build the critical mass of searchstreams by which this next generation engine might be built (nor will it necessarily be built with our tacit consent). But I can sense it coming.