The Future of the Search Engine

The Google of the future will look very different than today's search engine

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Can you imagine an Internet without Google search? Oren Etzoni, a Washington University computer scientist, can. Or, at least he pictures a very different kind of search. "We could soon view today’s keyword searching with the same nostalgia and amusement reserved for bygone technologies such as electric typewriters and vinyl records," he declares in Nature. In other words, the Google of the future could (and maybe should) look very different than the search engine of today. But, what exactly will a more modern search look like? Etzioni and others weigh in with their ideas, providing a picture of what online searching could look like.

No more keyword search box. Eztioni urges developers to think outside the keyword search box. "One threat to progress is the keyword search box, an innovation-retarding trap that 'exerts a powerful gravitational pull,'" explains Bits Blog's Steve Lohr. But if not the search box, then what? Etzioni imagines that people would speak a question and the computer would find an answer. Of course, some alternative mining methods already exist. For example, Shazam and SoundHound, services that identify songs from their notes, are a sort of audio search. But, as Nicholas Scalice computer science blogger points out on his blog, the entity that figures out how to combine all these existing search technologies--audio search, barcode search, realtime search--will succeed.

Someone needs to step up and take all of this technology under one roof. They need to brand themselves as a revolutionary search engine that can find exactly what you’re looking for based on your location, your friends suggestions, the image you just uploaded, the song playing from your car stereo, the barcode you just scanned, the things you already like and other non-traditional concepts.

No more link lists. Since more people use tiny screened devices it becomes harder to type in keywords and peruse a list of links, argues Etzioni. "The device of the future is the smartphone, and the 10 blue links of traditional search don’t cut it anymore." Instead, results could show up in a much more aesthetically pleasing and sensible format, argues Project Syndicate's Esther Dyson.

For example, what people want (and are now getting) in product search is not a list of pages, but a set of products displayed in some meaningful fashion. They want a map of the product space, not a list. The challenge of course, is that each kind of product has a different structure and a different set of attributes.

Better results. When people search, they look for more than information--they want action, explains Dyson. "They aren't just looking for nouns or information; they are looking for action. Currently, Google search looks at keywords, or strings of words, to find the result. Etzioni proposes a web search engine would identify relationships between terms, which would provide more and better results. "You turn to the search site of your smart phone to find a restaurant that offers those rarities. It not only finds the restaurant, it books a table for two, sends a map on how to reach there and offers the view from your table," The Economic Times's Shelley Singh offers as an example.

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