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What is the future of search?

Alex Christie

17 November 2008

Bobby_2
What is the future of search? A lot of people in the industry will agree, one of the next big steps in the searchscape is ‘semantic search’. You could argue that we already have semantic search engines, but what we have are loosely linked trend monitors that group certain things together and then attempts to match your query to the one that fits best not really interpretive at all.

I have set up a few tests to see which search engines are the most geared towards natural language queries, to see which of the big three search engines rates the best in terms of "who and what" questions, I did experiment with a lot of queries and I have displayed a fairly representative  set of results here. I have given them a mark of either FAIL or PASS if they have a "special entry" in position 1 with the answer.

Politicians…

MSN – who is the prime minister of spain? – PASS

Yahoo – who is the prime minister of spain? – FAIL

Google – who is the prime minister of spain? – FAIL

Notes – the same search with Egypt instead of Spain yields a specific result for Google – they have specific functionality for these kinds of searches but it is not all-encompassing.

Geography

MSN – what is the longest river in the world? – PASS

Yahoo – what is the longest river in the world? – FAIL

Google – what is the longest river in the world? – FAIL

Notes – OK so Live Search is doing pretty well here. I thought I would be clever and trick it with what is the 2nd longest river in the world. I experienced a wave of mild surprise…

Authors

MSN – who wrote the wind in the willows? – FAIL

Yahoo – who wrote the wind in the willows? – FAIL

Google – who wrote the wind in the willows? – PASS

Notes – OK thought it was too good to be true, Google wins round 3. The standings are:

Yahoo – 0,

Google – 1,

LiveSearch – 2

Inventors

MSN – who invented the lightbulb?- PASS

Yahoo  – who invented the lightbulb?- FAIL

Google – who invented the lightbulb?- FAIL

There are probably a few queries where other engines perform better,  but from the query sets I have tried, Live surprises with a very good set of results. It seems that the engineers at Microsoft  aren’t just sitting there twiddling their thumbs or re-skinning Vista (Sorry …ahem… Windows 7).

Maybe the search engine is going to be our first realistically achievable foray into AI, a machine based mind that will be able to interpret a users intentions from a poorly spelled query, will Google become the much vaunted sci-fi computer that our hero always addresses in  pulp sci-fi. Or will it be Live <Shudders>. Will the Computer ever be able to understand people? I for one have enough trouble understanding people and I am one of them. I suppose I will have to wait for Ms. Google(definitely going to be female) to answer that question for me.

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