TECH TALK: The Future of Search: Perspectives

Let us consider some perspectives on todays search and the world of tomorrow.

John Battelle wrote (September 20, 2004) about a meeting with Raymie Stata of Bloomba, which was acquired by Yahoo:

[Stata] points out that search is not really the big trend of the decade, it’s the proliferation of data in the first place. I quite agree, search is our response to the extraordinary info-abundance in which we’re all awash. Stata is particularly interested in the “my stuff” problem – integrating search into what we believe is “our” information, and designing interfaces that take that point of view out to the web.

“I see search as falling behind,” Stata told me. “So much is accessible now.” He continued: “I don’t see how traditional search – crawl, take a 2.5 word query, and display ten results – can get much better.”

Stata believes search has a user interface problem, to put it rather simply[There is a ] metaphor that search is the C prompt of the internet, and that the interface is due for an upgrade. “Search is a metaphor,” Stata claims, one that users have come to understand, much as they understand nested folders on a computer desktop.

Ramesh Jain wrote in a white paper (August 2004) on next-generation search:

What happened to the web was unexpected and extraordinary. Even Tim Barners-Lee could not have imagined how rapidly the Web grew. But what is happening and what is coming soon is even more mind-boggling than what happened in the past. The volume of data is continuously increasing. More importantly, the amount of live sensory data is increasing very fast. Sensor nets are being designed for applications ranging from understanding birds nesting behavior to homeland security applications. Video and audio data is exponentially increasing. With cameras becoming integral part of mobile phones and service providers looking for applications to promote uses of those cameras, completely novel applications are just around the corner. The nature of entertainment is changing fast and that will be integral part of the web. First Personal Video Recorders (PVRs) like TiVO considered themselves a consumer electronic device and did not see any need for internet connectivity. Now cable service providers offer you directly a PVR on line and internet is becoming essential component of PVRs.

It is clear that in comparison to the Web of the last century, the nature of data on the Web later in this decade will be very different in the following aspects:
Volume of data is growing by orders of magnitudes every year.
Multimedia and sensor data are becoming more and more common.
Spatio-temporal attributes of data are important.
Different data sources provide information to form the holistic picture.
Users are not concerned with the location of data source, as long as its quality and credibility is assured. They want to know the result of the data assimilation (the big picture of the event).
Real-time data processing is the only way to extract meaningful information
Exploration, not querying, is the predominant mode of interaction, which makes context and state critical.
The user is interested in experience and information, independent of the medium and the source.

Effectively, the nature of the knowledge on the Web is changing very fast. It used to be mostly static text documents; now it will be a combination of live and static multimedia, including text, data and documents with spatio-temporal attributes. Considering these changes, can the search engines developed for static text documents be able to deal with the needs of the Web?

Tomorrow: Perspectives (continued)

TECH TALK The Future of Search+T

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.