Search is the business of mapping keywords to urls. This paradigm started a couple of years after the invention of the WWW (say 1996-97) thanks to pioneers such as Lycos, Excite, and Altavista. Then, Google came and they understood how to make money out of search. They leveraged ideas coming from Lycos and Overture, but they were able to apply them in a large profitable scale. Also, Google invented Pagerank, a first large scale link based ranking algorithm. 1999 was a memorable moment with a lot of innovations coming at the same time (PageRank, Salsa, Hypersearch, ExpertRank, and so on and so forth). After that moment, I saw just three additional but minor turning points for algorithmic search:
First, what i called the run for the biggest index with relevant search results, with champions such as Fast, Google, Teoma. Crystal Clear Winner: Google
Second, what Google called Universal search and Ask.com called Ask3d and Bing called Decision engine. Search is no more just about ten web blue links, but is an integrated experience with blended multimedia, fresh news, social stuffs, and so on and so forth. Winner: Bing & Google; Special Mention: Ask.com and Yahoo. Surprisingly, enough Ask.com gave up on this field where they were truly innovators.
Third, the adoption of large scale machine learning methodologies for ranking based on query logs and other signals, with champions like Yahoo and large scale adopters such as Bing. Google claims that they are not adopting machine learning for learning to rank, but I frankly doubt it. Winner: Bing.
So you can ask why are you saying the those are minor changes in search? Well, the business is still the same: mapping keywords to urls. I don't see any major switch from that paradigm. Do you ?
Probably it's all a matter of defining what's a major switch. So, let's avoid theories and go on the practical side. Let's learn by examples and analogies. The adoption of mp3 format was a major switch for the music industry. GUIs such as X-Windows, Windows, and MacOS were a major switch for the interaction with computers. The adoption of the Apps model was a major switch for the phone industry. Investment funds were a major switch for the finance industry. Kinetics is a major switch for the game industry (still to be proven, but in my personal opinion it will be huge. Yes, I work for Microsoft but I would be impressed by this technology even if working for Google). Electrical cars will not be a major switch for the automobile industry (still to be proven, but in my personal opinion they will not be).
So, have you seen any major switch for the search industry in the past fifteen years? Surely, you have not.
You may argue: search is a mature business there is no need to innovate there and switch the paradigm. Hmm, I gently but firmly disagree with that point of view. Actually, my argument is the opposite: since search is a mature business there is now an immense need of innovation in the field. Again let's learn by the examples. Computation was a mature business (do you remember about Digital, IBM?) when the visual UI on PCs appeared. Music industry was one of the most established one, when mp3 came and changed that world. Mobile Phones business was a very consolidated one when the App model broke all the already written rules. Game business was all based on devices you can hold with your hands when kinetics came and said: why do you need to hold something just use your hands you have already them with yourself.
Also, if you study the past examples you will notice that it took at least fifteen years to innovate an already established business with new break through ideas. Beside, if you consider the acceleration we had in technologies you would probably agree with me that we are already accumulating a delay in addressing this immense need of innovation for search business.
My question to you: do you have ideas for innovating in the search business and moving away from the mapping keywords to urls paradigm? Be naive, be simple, be stupid, but be creative.
I have a couple of them and will post in the next days.
DISCLAIMER: Like everywhere else in this blog site, I am expressing my personal opinions, aspirations and ideas and not expressing any consideration related to my work with Microsoft.
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