Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Search Engines

For how much longer will everyone be happy using a Google-style interface (text box input, sorted list output)?

For a while now, I've been using Kartoo as my preferred search engine, because I rather like the way it visualizes the search results. (Thanks to JJ.)

Jef Newson recently pointed me towards Google Music Search. But this is just another text box. How do I enter the song I want to search for? Why can't I hum into a sound file, or pick out the tune on a keyboard?

Is this so far-fetched? Look at the Retrievr experimental service, which uses a rough sketch to search through images on Flickr.

And finally, look at the concept of Brain Fingerprinting, which apparently searches through a human brain to perform pattern matching against memories of an event or non-event. (See BBC News and ABC News via Guerrilla Innovation and Emergent Chaos.)

The battles between Google and Microsoft (and the rest) are fascinating, to be sure. But these platforms are not about to provide support for the things we are really searching for - original ideas, new customers and markets, reliable knowledge, and so on. Intelligence tools may be able to search for complex patterns (chemical compounds or social clusters possessing certain structural characteristics), and visualization tools can reflect these back, but it's usually pretty hard to define what you want or to interpret the results.

So we have to translate from what we really want into what we think we can get. Search for the title of a song, or a snatch of lyrics, or some other characteristics, and these search engines can probably find something relevant. Search for a topic, and these search engines will find companies that want to sell you their expertise. Search for what everyone else is thinking and saying and reading and buying, and it will come top in the search rankings. ("Thinking with the Majority"). What more could we possibly wish for?

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