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Search, The Next Generation Have You Seen Wolfram Alpha?
Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Wolfram Alpha is a search service being released this month that, depending on who you listen to, will either change the internet forever, or provide another useful research tool. Either way, it does hint at the possible future direction of search services.Wolfram Alpha hasn't been launched as yet, but you can see some screen shots here.

The major difference between Wolfram Alpha and existing search services is that it answers questions, as opposed to returning a list of pages.

For example, a search on "what is the GDP of France" will not only give you a straight answer, is will also bring up a page of related information, complete with graphs and charts.

By comparison, Google is a step removed from the answer. The onus is still on the searcher to dig for it.

Will Search Engines Becoming Less Passive?

Meanwhile, Google appears to be working on a new, intelligent news distribution system.

When asked by reporter Sharon Waxman, Eric Schmidt confirmed development of a a platform that will bring high-quality news content to users without them actively looking for it". This news feature would launch in about six months.

Could this be anything more than a glorified RSS reader?

Hard to tell. However, it may well signal a change in approach from Google being a passive search tool to taking a more active role in data aggregation and channel selection. When Google says they will not be a content producer, I think this implies they are therefore neutral. However, in the case of Google News, we can see that Google already exerts significant editorial control over the channel, which, at very least, makes them a biased editor, as opposed to neutral. One criticism of Google News is that it favors content from mainstream media outlets. Whilst Google have included blog search, it is pushed to the back in the form of an archive link. In this respect, Google is very much the friend of the big brand, and the status quo. Will the new service place control back in the hands of the user? If so, does this present new opportunities for the SEO in the news traffic business? Schmidt:

The first two news organizations to get this treatment, Schmidt said, will be the New York Times and the Washington Post.

Perhaps not, but certainly a development worth watching.

Where Is Search Heading?

Search is still primitive. When we use a search engine, are we really looking for a list of sites, or are we looking for answers to questions? I'd argue we want the latter, but the limits of technology deliver us the former. Wouldn't it be so much better if when we searched for something, we received an answer, and a page of credible, collated data? Much like Wolfram Alpha promises? Is that where search is heading? In the Future Of Search, Marissa Meyer speculates about active devices that search for data before we're even aware we need it. It would be much nicer if we had a device with great connectivity that could do searches without interruption. One far-fetched idea: how about a wearable device that does searches in the background based on the words it picks up from conversations, and then flashes relevant facts? This notion syncs with Eric Schmidt's reported description of Google's new, as yet unreleased, news service: But Google does have plans for a solution. In about six months, the company will roll out a system that will bring high-quality news content to users without them actively looking for it. Under this latest iteration of advanced search, users will be automatically served the kind of news that interests them just by calling up Googles page. The latest algorithms apply ever more sophisticated filtering " based on search words, user choices, purchases, a whole host of cues " to determine what the reader is looking for without knowing theyre looking for it. The common themes are increased levels of personalization, and a more intelligent search service.


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