Search update

May 17, 2007

Yesterday (May 16th) Google unveiled Universal Search, which incorporates information from a variety of previously separate sources – videos, images, news, maps, books, and websites – into a single set of results. Over time, users will recognise additional types of content integrated into their search results as the company moves toward delivering “a truly comprehensive search experience”. According to Google;

The ultimate goal of universal search is to break down the silos of information that exist on the web and provide the very best answer every time a user enters a query. While we still have a long way to go, today’s announcements are a big step in that direction.

The change means when users carry out a search, it will also be run on all the other categories of information that Google indexes. A series of tabs will appear between the search box and the results that let users navigate to other categories. Clicking on a tab will let people drill down into a specific category of results such as patents or products.

Searchmash’s integration of different categories on the results page has obviously proved popular enough with users to be adopted by Google’s main site. 

Although search results will be enhanced, the act of searching remains unchanged and I think this is where Google needs to concentrate more of their efforts.

Search 2.0

May 14, 2007

“The future of search is not in retrieving information; it’s about understanding the text.”

Piper Jaffray (US Investment Bank), 2006  

WHAT IS IT?

Searchmash

www.searchmash.com is a Google experiment. When you do a typical web search, you also see image, blog, video and Wikipedia results in the right side of the screen. It’s basically a shortcut to reach all the information you need. The “More web results” bar makes it much easier to browse the search results: when you need more information, simply click on “More web results” and new results appear at the bottom of the page underneath existing search results. This means you can continue scrolling down the same page for your results, rather than opening a new one and having to click back and forth. There is also a feedback box at the side of the page, where you can tick ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to indicated whether you find Searchmash’s various features useful or not; putting consumer power into Google Search. 

Yahoo! Mindset 

http://mindset.research.yahoo.com/ Yahoo!’s ongoing research project, Mindset, brings you results according to your search purposes. For instance, when you enter “Rolex Watches” in the search box, you may want to buy a Rolex Watch or research the company. Yahoo!’s intent-driven search allows you to specify your intent and get the most relevant results by using an intuitive slider in the interface, where you can set the bias for commercial or non-commercial results. Consumers can give feedback at the Mindset Forum. 

Ask X 

http://www.ask.com/?ax=5 Ask X ‘secretly launched’ last December, and, like Mindset, is still in its beta period. It’s like Searchmash, but with far more shortcuts on the interface. The interface is split into three panels; on the left is the search panel, which offers ‘Narrow’ and ‘Expand’ search terms that correspond to what you’re searching for e.g. type in ‘water’ and Narrow lists water fact, water cycle, water pollution where as Expand lists H20, waterfalls and the ocean. The middle panel shows the search results and the right-hand panel gives the shortcuts to other search types, including video, news, images, blogs, shopping, encyclopaedia, music and more.  

WHAT ARE THE FACTS?

Search is a big industry that’s only going to get bigger:  A new report from US investment bank, Piper Jaffray says global advertising and marketing via internet search engines will grow from a $15.8bn global industry in 2007 to $44.5bn over the next five years.

Google has the lion’s share of the UK market:

UK market share of search engines (Jan – Feb 2007):

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Source: Hitwise 

Yahoo! and Microsoft have a significant number of users in the US:

US market share of search engines (Dec 2006): 

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 Source: Comscore 

WHAT’S THE BUZZ? 

We trawled the blogosphere to find out what people are saying about the three new search engines…

Searchmash: 

Rapid search is important to users, who like the shortcuts that Searchmash offers: 

I think it’s just a fresh approach to things. Like… images appearing just as importantly as web pages. I like it.   

There is concern over childproofing the shortcuts: 

this is nice…but it is unable to filter the adult image searchmash.com/search/penis 

Yahoo! Mindset: 

When it comes to search, speed is off the essence. Users like anything that can narrow their search terms and reduce their time spent searching: 

I found that yahoo!-mindset gave more relevantly ranking results than Google and the innovativeness of yahoo! to help sort the results (with the help of slider) to researching & shopping even helps reduce the time spent to find the information.

Many users thought there was room for more development on the slider:

There should be a square which lists grids of over all categories and as you move the slider around towards the final spot the chioces prioritize. The key is having useful headings…not “shopping”. Like Entertainment, medical, retail, scholarly, creative, technology, financial. This would make this a great idea.

I do a LOT of researching as opposed to shopping. It would be nice to have a “preference” to keep the slider at the same spot when I come to search. Excellent concept though! I can’t wait to see how it evolves!

For some, Mindset promises more than it delivers:

Not so good – I think Mindset is a great idea, but it’s one that just doesn’t work yet. When I request research/non-commercial sites, almost all the sites I get are, indeed, selling something. 

Ask X:

The aesthetics of Ask X are enough to get people excited – cool and user-friendly:

Wow! I’m very impressed. Thank you for sharing this and your review is right, it is a slick new interface. I do hope they keep the design the Ask X hmepage sports. It’s awfully impressive.

Experimentation from search brands is a good thing – in general, users aren’t so wedded to one search engine that they won’t change if something better comes along:

Ask is very open to innovation in search. I like it. This new look seems like “Digg of search engines” to me. Very good user interface and I liked the Saving feature. 

Impact on the blogosphere:

None of the search engines have set the blogosphere alight in the last six months. Searchmash’s launch in October last year means that it has generated more recent interest than Yahoo! Mindset in the last six months, (Mindset has been in the beta since 2005). Ask X’s ‘secret launch’ means that there has been very little blog chat around it.     

Impact on the blogosphere

Source: 2006 Nielsen Buzz Metrics

Interestingly, both Searchmash and Yahoo! Mindset have generated a pretty steady stream of interest. Even a year after Yahoo! launched its research project, users are still suggesting improvements, indicating that Mindset has already captured people’s imaginations. 
 

WHAT DO WE THINK? 

We think that search is heading in two different directions:  

  • intent-driven search      
  • specialised categories 

Intent-driven search, as championed by Yahoo! Mindset, is the first step towards integrating intuitive, human aspects into a search engine. Mindset partially understands what you want from your search before you start.  The specialised categories on Searchmash and Ask X are a way of providing short-cuts to information and of re-segmenting what’s already there. Where as these search engines are very content-driven, and reliant on the user already being familiar with the shortcuts and where they lead to (e.g. Wikipedia, Flickr etc), Mindset has the potential to categorise its information in a more human way, by genre (e.g. Film, Shopping etc), making search simpler and easier to use. 

Searchmash:  

Searchmash offers well-segmented search, but hasn’t made a move into the intent-driven search that we think will shape the search engines of the future. It feels as though Searchmash is skirting around what search really needs, as it’s not trying anything radically different. Last year Ionut Alex Chito from the Google Operating System blog predicted that, “In 2007, search engines will move towards one interface that mixes specialized searches”. Searchmash has certainly fulfilled this prediction, but was it actually the right one? That said, as a short-term measure, it really works. Search is easier, faster and yields the results you want. Searchmash will, however, need to offer a bigger variety of shortcuts if they are going to compete with Ask X, which already eclipses Searchmash in terms of specialised categories. 

Yahoo! Mindset: 

Yahoo! has done something really exciting with Mindset (the regular and positive buzz around it is proof of this) and is half-way to providing an effective intent-driven search engine, which puts context into your search. The slider is a brilliant idea and just needs the capability that has been suggested by users i.e. include different ‘Film, ‘Retail’ and ‘Research’ settings.  With the average time spent searching a term currently at 7 minutes, Yahoo! Mindset has a real opportunity to reduce this to seconds if they make a few improvements. THEN they could really challenge the Google monopoly. 

Ask X: 

Ask X sits somewhere between Searchmash and Mindset in terms of innovation. It has managed to segment its search better than Searchmash. The segmentation works very well and really enhances the search offering; however the ‘Narrow’ and ‘Expand’ options seem like a half-hearted experiment and can yield confusing as opposed to useful suggestions. (This will improve the more Ask X is used, the fact that it is in beta means that the search results are still being optimised). What Ask X has uncovered, is that aesthetics are an important component in why people choose a particular search engine. Looking ‘slick’ and slightly futuristic helps give the user the impression that they will get a better, more streamlined search experience; it may even be enough to tempt people away from the familiar. 

People want something new: 

Some of the discussions generated by the Ask campaign, The Internet Revolution, have shown that there is an appetite for something new in search. Equally the buzz in the blogosphere shows that, whether positive or negative, users are keen to give their feedback and recommendations. There’s seems to be genuine excitement about search engines trying to do something new. (Or maybe that’s just the blogs I’m reading…) 

Specialised search engines: 

The comments on the Mindset Forum emphasise that people use search for either commercial or research purposes. Yahoo! has definitely latched on to this, hence the scale of the slider. But maybe Mindset has its failings because it is trying to do both and doing neither 100% satisfactorily. This could indicate that search engines need to be either commercial or research specialists in the future. 

Opportunity knocks? 

Search is an extremely lucrative market that’s worth the investment needed to get it right. Thanks to the changing face of Web 2.0, with its new capabilities, there is a real chance to grab some market share from Google. Yahoo! have already started; they saw a 12% increase in market share in the UK market in 2006 (no doubt thanks to their persistent R&D). 

Google backlash? 

Recent articles hint that Google may be in danger of being seen as having too many fingers in too many pies and of losing site of what they do best (http://business.guardian.co.uk/story/0,,2041991,00.html).  

Trend towards niche specialist search engines: 

Techno blogs are pushing the alternative search engines, with chat about readwriteweb.com’s Top 100 Alternative Search Engines. These tend to specialise in a particular area (e.g. ‘sounds’ at www.findsounds.com), but consumer response is pretty positive. Many seem grateful to be guided out of the Google box…..but, as some comments show, there will always be the Google die-hards. 

Personalised search: 

We think that future search engines will continue the trend towards human intuition by recognising you as a user, offering a personalised search history and recording your searches and offering appropriate results based on your search behaviour.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? 

Here’s your chance to let us know what you think. What search engines do you think will come to fore? What would you like from your search engine? Do you use anything other than the top five?  

Here’s an example: 

Personally, I’d like to see chronological search – it’s a simple thing, but generally people using search engines for research purposes want the most recent information. 

NEXT TIME

Advertising pays: a look at the growing trend towards advertiser funded content