Search Wars: Man vs. Machine

23 July, 2008 at 10:13 am 7 comments

The more I learn about social media and Web 2.0, the more I think that cyber futurists are getting it wrong.  If we indulge their claim that we’re advancing towards a world in which machines and robots are going to reign, then technology – or at least the web – is going backward.  It’s become less mechanical and more social – and if the popularity of social media is any indication, most of us web users love being on the flipside. 

I’m not just talking about blogs and social networks, but the recent explosion of social search.  New search technologies that provide interactivity, personalisation and dynamism offer a remarkable alternative to mainstream search engines.  It’s time we look beyond Google because it doesn’t have all the answers.

Search 0.0 – 3.0
Search 2.0 developer Ebrahim Ezzy’s explanation of the three generations of search technology helps to understand how search has evolved:

Traditional Search Engines work to retrieve information using Boolean queries, link analysis and text relevance. These first generation search engines, like Alta Vista, rank sites according to page content.
Second generation search (eg. Google) uses link analysis for ranking search results.
Third generation search engines combine the functions of the “old” search engines with new models that take into account “user preferences, collaboration, collective intelligence, a rich user experience, and many other specialised capabilities that make information more productive”.

I’ve compiled a list (by no means comprehensive) of third generation/social search engines that will make you think twice about declaring Google King of the Search Wars.

Scour is a social search engine aggregator that allows users to vote and rank search results using their own criteria.  It delivers search results from the top 3 search engines  (Google, Yahoo and MSN) after taking into account  user feedback.  Users earn points for each search, vote and comment they make, which can be redeemed for Visa gift cards.

Rollyo is a community-driven search engine that allows users to create their own personalised search engines based on sites they add to their SearchRoll.  Given the information overload that we have to endure on the web, these search engines conveniently allow users to filter and control the amount and quality of their searches.  Swicki works in a similar way to Rollyo, but returns comprehensive text or multimedia searches on a specific topic/theme chosen by the user. 

While Google is great for searching pages, it’s less handy when searching for people.  That’s where Sightix comes in.  This unique service provides users with personalised searches based on their social networks, friends and connections.   While traditional search engines will return the same results to different users, Sightix takes into account the identity of each user and returns unique, personalised and relevant results based on that user’s social graph.    Whozat, SpocK and Zoominfo are other people search engines that are worth a visit, especially if you want concise information on an individual.

A major shortcoming of Google is that it doesn’t index multimedia content and Flash files, but now there are search engines dedicated exclusively to this.  Mediawombat is a search engine for multimedia and Flash files only.  Snipp.tv is another valuable multimedia search engine that can be used for finding video and audio files.

My favourite of the lot is Clusty, which organises search results into folders, making it easier and faster to navigate.  So while a Google search of Nelson Mandela will return millions of page results that you’ll have to wade through to find specific information on his 90th birthday celebration, Clusty returns this impressive, organized  collection of folders ranging from Biography, 90th Birthday Celebration, Nobel Peace Prize, etc. 

Another search engine that will speed up your research is Cluuz, because it goes beyond providing mere links as search results.  It peers into the Web, extracts information, images and tags relating to your search word and presents them to the user so that relevant information can be found faster.

Niche search engines are also on the increase: 5tvs is an Internet TV search aggregator, Metaverselink can be used to search within virtual worlds, Gogooligans is an educational search engine for kids, and Codase and Krugle are every programmer’s dream as they index only source code (Java, CSS etc) and technical information.

Traditional vs. Social Search
Social search may be more innovative and intuitive than traditional search, but it cannot replace traditional search engines.  When used together with mainstream search engines, they can yield powerful search results that can be more productive and valuable for the user. 

One of the problems with community-driven search engines like Scour is that they depend on the participation of users to stay afloat , and are also susceptible to spammers.

While many new Search 2.0 tools are aspiring to be the next Google, it’s not about competition but collaboration.  As Ezzy points out, even the mainstream search giants have realised the potential of social search and implemented some of its features.  Yahoo! has introduced My Web 2.0 and Google offers bookmarking and tagging of search history for users. 

The future of search- and the web at large – is definitely leaning more towards man, not machine.

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7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Chris  |  23 July, 2008 at 5:20 pm

    Me.dium is another company that has its own social search engine. They utilize past search results and click streams to produce search results of where people are really spending their time on the internet. It is taking social search to a whole other level.

    Me.dium’s Social Search, which leverages the Yahoo! Search BOSS platform, provides an entirely new level of information on top of traditional search. Me.dium’s Social Search harnesses the activity of the crowds to let you find information that has relevance based on what people are actually surfing right now.

    Me.dium’s technology lets the inherent activity of real people – not robotic crawlers – determine relevance. Me.dium’s Social Search results show what people are surfing and find interesting, right now. While other search engines base relevance on how content links across pages, Me.dium’s Social Search shows you the most popular news, reviews, pictures and videos that other people are actually looking at in relation to your search term. And as the activity of the people online changes, so do the search results.

  • 2. judemathurine  |  8 August, 2008 at 11:02 am

    The next generation of Internet and mobile search will use many of the 2.0 facets described in your post. They will tap directly into your social media history which offers a raft of intelligence about your behaviour as a user, consumer, friend, traveller, human being.

    It has long been suggested that the 3.0 search tools plan to make use of all available user data including user’s own search, purchasing, social, chat history, as well as the meaning of words and their relation to other words and concepts to provide customised results and more particularly custom marketing and advertising – using an artificial intelligence algorithm.

    Cracking post BTW.

  • 3. bloggingsocialmedia  |  11 August, 2008 at 5:30 pm

    @judemathurine: Thanks. I think as search technology becomes more intuitive and advanced, the Web is going to evolve into an even more public space. Users will appreciate the improved search results but will be more wary of “putting themselves out there”. But for advertisers, it’s going to be a dream.

  • 4. alyraysabelle  |  4 October, 2008 at 6:53 am

    There’s another new search engine called Find.com out there. It has fresh, clean look and bigger fonts. Find.com says it gives more relevant results than Google – you don’t have to learn advanced search techniques to get what you want.

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  • 6. sandrar  |  10 September, 2009 at 1:44 pm

    Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.

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