With Ask.com scaling back and outsourcing and Yahoo! in disarray, will it come to a web search showdown between Google and Microsoft? Does Microsoft stand a chance against Google’s massive share of the search market? What about other options—semantic search improvements, vertical search, social search, etc.? Can they make a dent or will Google simply improve too? I can’t claim to see even the immediate future, but I can reflect on some recent interesting developments and point to some expert commentary. Consider it food for thought.
Last week, an upstart company with an impressive team of search experts launched a new search engine called Cuil (www.cuil.com) that claims to offer breakthrough technology in search architecture and ranking algorithms. Despite the claims of being a "Google killer," initial tests proved disappointing. Search expert Greg Notess will be taking a closer look in a forthcoming NewsBreak.
For an interesting perspective, check out veteran online publisher Bernard Lunn’s comments in a ReadWriteWeb blog post (www.readwriteweb.com/archives/11_search_trends.php) titled "11 Search Trends That May Disrupt Google": "It has been an all or nothing game. That may be about to change. It is possible that Google will not be beaten by one big competitor. It is possible that they will be pecked at by thousands of tiny start-ups using a new outsourced infrastructure."
hakia, the semantic search engine, announced that it has increased its health and medical search coverage by adding more than 10 million abstracts from PubMed, a medical database maintained by the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health. Using its QDEX technology and semantic capabilities, hakia makes it easier to find current and historic medical and health documents dating back 5 years. PubMed searches can be conducted at http://pubmed.hakia.com, as part of hakia’s medical search at http://medical.hakia.com, or as part of the general search engine itself, www.hakia.com.
Kosmix has provided vertical search sites covering health, automobiles, and travel. Results are pulled from a variety of sources. It is now broadening its scope and has launched an alpha of its horizontal search engine (www.kosmix.com) with a mission "to intelligently organize the web for any topic that catches your fancy. …"
Yahoo! announced that it is extending its Open Strategy with a new open web services platform called Yahoo! Search BOSS (Build your Own Search Service). Yahoo! is hoping that working with vertical and niche sites will spawn an army of partners to nibble away at Google. Several partner sites are already working with BOSS, including hakia and Me.dium, a personalized search startup. For details, see the NewsBreak at http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbReader.asp?ArticleId=49963.
Microsoft has bought the semantic search engine Powerset (www.powerset.com). So far, Powerset just lets users search Wikipedia using a natural language query. Presumably, Microsoft will use it to improve search relevancy and compete more effectively with Google.
Yahoo! Research has an experimental semantic search site called microsearch (www.yr-bcn.es/demos/microsearch) that combines traditional search results with metadata extracted from webpages.
Blogger Rebecca Sato says the Semantic Web promises to bring order to the chaos of the current web, which is "just a compendium of billions of text documents, which are designed to be read by human beings." She says that to move from Web 2.0 to Web 3.0 (the Semantic Web), the information in documents will have to be turned into data that machines can read and evaluate autonomously (www.dailygalaxy.com/my_weblog/2008/07/microscope-acqu.html).
In response, search expert Stephen E. Arnold says the future may be "smarter software, richer indexing, and more dimensionality for the information," but that this is resource intensive and could take years to develop. In the meantime, "Semantic technology may find itself playing catch up to search systems that use smart shortcuts. For example, user tagging may provide acceptable payoffs without the complexity and cost of semantic systems. If this happens, the search revolution may be people power, not smart software."
Scoofers (www.scoofers.com) is a new social search engine that launched in the U.S. and the Netherlands. It provides search results based on the knowledge of experts at social networking websites. It claims that the combination of automatic results with social bookmarks leads to more relevant search results. There are four vertical Scoofers at this point—travel, electronics, party and dining, and fashion shopping. It uses Google Custom Search and the content on Digg, Delicious, Technorati, Yahoo! directories, DMOZ, and more.
Arnold says, "The Semantic Web has been slow in coming, but I think the ‘social tagging’ function may be providing some opportunities that search engines, including Google, have yet to exploit fully."
Now you can even get paid for searching—and for voting, commenting, and referring. Scour.com (www.scour.com) is a new meta social search engine that offers searchers incentives. Scour pulls search results from Google, Yahoo!, and MSN and then uses feedback to make the results more relevant. Scour says it differentiates itself from other social search, ratings and community sites in that it lets users vote and comment on search results, provides superior privacy control, gives weight to preferred engines, and lets people redeem search points for VISA gift cards. Search counts for 1 point, voting 2 points, comments 3 points, and friend referral gets 25% of each friend’s points. The company claims that an active user could earn $125 a year.
Google’s Not Standing Still
And, of course, Google continues to improve. SearchDay noted that Google has updated and enhanced the user interface (UI) for its Advanced Search page. In addition to the recent "date range" options that expand from the menu, Google has now added topic-specific searches.