Experts Predict Where Search Will Go in 2005

What’s the next search frontier? Will some new technology transform search as we know it? Will everything under the sun be searchable by the end of the year? Will the legal landscape set the industry back? It all depends on whom you ask.

As the dust settled on the Search Engine Strategies Conference & Expo in New York last week, there was more speculation than ever about where the search engine industry will go this year.

Industry experts express a variety of predications for search engine issues and innovations in 2005.

‘Webifying’ the World

In recent months we’ve seen everything from desktops to closed-caption television shows become searchable. What will be next? John Battelle, who was the co-founder of Wired magazine and now runs Searchblog, told the E-Commerce Times that he expects to see indexing expand beyond the Web.

“You could describe it as search moving off the Web into other things or you could say search is ‘Webifying’ everything,” Battelle said. “This will change search dramatically because it will no longer be driven by the concept of who is linking to whom, but rather by more structured information that has a different set of potentials, including personal media, your movies, your phone calls, your e-mail.”

As part of this “Webifying,” Gartner analyst Alan Weiner told the E-Commerce Times that he expects to see XML architecture that will allow search engines to receive informational feeds from proprietary content databases.

For example, a search engine could make a deal with Amazon.com to tap into its database of used books from a particular year. In this scenario, the XML feed would populate the search engine.

Weiner said these advanced capabilities will provide for another search trend: greater usability.

“As companies add more capabilities to their search engines, like desktop search and proprietary databases, search engines will need to make a larger investment in user interface and usability,” Weiner said. “The more complexity you add to the search functions, the easier it needs to be for people to use. That ease of use includes personalization and keeping track of what’s been searched.”

Clustering Catches On

Another common prediction, and one that falls in line with usability, is for the increased adoption of clustering technology. America Online is already offering clustering via its Vivisimo partnership. Weiner, for one, said he’s hooked on clustering, and he expects to see major search engine players add clustering features in 2005 to make search more user-friendly.

“Clustering is an elemental way of taking people through a more direct path to what they are looking for,” Weiner said. “If you type in the world ‘polish,’ the search engine might not know if you are looking forinformation about Poland or products that make your car shiny. Withclustering technology, you have on-the-fly categories and you can immediately choose ‘car-related accessories.'”

Jim Jansen, assistant professor of information sciences and technology at Penn State University, expects the personalization search trend to expand beyond natural search and into paid-advertising results.

“Results will be clustered into like items,” Jansen told the E-CommerceTimes. “Certainly, in the area of advertising there is a move to localizedand directed advertising.”

Meanwhile, while many search trends revolve around new technologies, others focus on ideas that use existing search technologies to present information in a new way.

Clare Hart, president and CEO of Factiva, a Dow Jones and Reuters company, told the E-Commerce Times that the future of search does not lie in one particular technology, but in the way that individuals use and consume search-generated information.

“As search continues to evolve, it will become less about simply givinginformation and more about users being able to garner valuable insight and meaning from that information more quickly,” Hart said. “Emerging search applications will use technology to uncover trends, comparisons, discoveries and sentiments and then feed this information into applications that can present these findings using visuals and analytics.”

Value-Added Search

Hart is on to something that analysts say will become a significant trend: value-added search.

Rob Friedman, co-founder and executive vice president for Digital Envoy, an IP intelligence software vendor, predicts the biggest search trend in 2005 will be a moving away from pure “accurate” results and into more “value-added” functionality. Of course, there is more than one way to provide that value.

“Things like local search, specialized search — such as the ability to search library books and ‘safe search’ for children — desktop search, and visual search — the ability to search and ‘see’ an actual photo of the place you’re looking for — will come to the forefront in 2005,” Friedman told the E-Commerce Times.

“Leading search engines are now about on par in terms of accuracy and documents indexed, so they now will need to develop new cool, differentiable services on top of these results,” he said.

Meanwhile, Blingo is taking a different tack with value-added search. Blingo delivers Internet search results in much the same way as the leading competitors, but it also seeks to lure users with a chance to win a prize instantly, like Canon digital cameras, one-year subscriptions to Netflix, or Amazon.com gift certificates. Currently in beta testing, Blingo is offering thousands of prizes every month.

Differentiating the Experience

“Google really raised the bar for search quality. Now everybody is looking for new and compelling ways to differentiate the search experience,” Blingo co-founder and CEO Frank Anderson said.

Anderson said: “Sweepstakes and contests have always been enormously popular with consumers, even though there are typically some strings attached. But with Blingo we’ve eliminated all of the usual nonsense. There are no strings, no catches, and no hassles — just great search and thousands of winners.”

To read Part 2, click here: “Search Industry Facing Evolution.”

To read Part 3, click here: “Future of Search Promises Many New Developments, Ideas.”

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