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The Smart Techie was renamed Siliconindia India Edition starting Feb 2012 to continue the nearly two decade track record of excellence of our US edition.

March - 2009 - issue > Technology

In Search of the Ideal Search

Jaya Smitha Menon
Monday, March 2, 2009
Jaya Smitha Menon
Wouldn't it be nice if Google understood the meaning of your phrase rather than just the words that are in the phrase? We've made a lot of discoveries in that area that are going to roll out in the next little while," said Eric Schimdt, CEO of Google at the Earnings call last month. Saying this, he was actually hinting at the next big wave in search engine technology – Semantic Search, which brings more intelligence to search. This gives a small view on the continuous quest of search engines towards this query: What will constitute an ideal search engine? Undoubtedly the most powerful application of the internet, search engines today can not only return content results but image, news, and even video results. According to a recent report, Web users spend a total of 13 million hours per month interacting with Google alone.

A look at search engines that existed before the turn of this century, like Alta Vista, Hotbot, and Infoseek show that they were doing a pretty good job with their search, and people were relatively happy to use them. Then came Google, which figured out that all that the people cared about were the speed, simplicity, and the best possible way to search. By concentrating on the end result - better search - and pioneering new ways to get there, Google changed the whole landscape and created a brand name that's now both a noun and a verb.

Today, with multiple players in the market, it is an open secret that not only the large players but also small search engines are working towards improvements to core search technology and deeper advancements in different search areas to deliver a better search experience to the consumers and advertisers. Given that Web pages are changing constantly, search engines also need to update their index periodically in order to keep up with the ever-evolving Web. An obsolete index leads to irrelevant or 'broken' search results, wasting users’ time and causing frustration.

As Prabhakaran Raghavan, Head of Yahoo Research puts it, "We are redefining the notions of accuracy and relevance. Users are no longer satisfied with running searches and seeing a list of documents in response. Users want to complete tasks; our goal as a search engine is to enable them to complete their tasks, rather than read documents, assimilate information, and finally decide on actions." A user typing 'pizza san francisco' is not interested in a ranked list of documents containing these words. That user would best be served by a ranked list of pizza restaurants in San Francisco, each of which is accompanied by all germane information including location, open hours, menu, user ratings from around the Web, etc.

Know Your Customer
This clichéd statement has a great importance in the context of search engines. Due to rapid advance in technology and Web proliferation, the customer today is seeking more reliability, accuracy, and efficiency. Nearly 20 percent of the customer challenges came from the long tail of the Web, indicating the need for broader coverage to ensure that the right results can be returned for the highest percentage of queries. One key insight that really needs to be noticed is searches don’t occur in isolation – they are often part of a longer task. That is, searchers come to a search engine with something in mind, do an initial query, click on multiple results, perform multiple follow-up searches, and then frequently come back in the following days or weeks to return to the same topic.

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