DENVER-The search engine market is on the precipice of some great innovation, but no one knows exactly what next-generation search engines will look like, four search experts concluded during a panel on the future of search at the Defrag conference here Nov. 5.
The conversation, which included Yahoo's Tom Chi, Siderian Software's Bradley Allen, Thomson Reuters' Tom Tague (for the OpenCalais Web service) and Isys Search Software's Derek Murphy started with the basic agreement that current search engine results from Google, Yahoo and Microsoft are flooded with too much noise.
This is noise in search: Allen said while running he heard two women talking about doing Google searches and not knowing what to do after receiving millions of results. "It's wonderful technology and when it works it's great, but there is no guidance" as to what to do if users can't find what they need within the first 10 blue links, he said.
Chi, whose company is the second-leading search engine behind Google and has drastically overhauled its process to change that, was less kind about the current state of search. "The only problem with search is that it's awful, but other than that it works pretty well," he said.
That blatant oxymoron aside, Chi said search is generally stupid. When he checks search logs, he said, he notices that people are still doing navigational searches for Ebay.com, which is "ridiculous."
But rather than take steps to make search more intelligent on behalf of users, Chi said, major players-Google, Yahoo and Microsoft-are not highly motivated to do this because if a user spells eBay wrong and does a spelling correction to get other results, search engines still profit from those mistakes thanks to online advertising clicks.
Yahoo is positioning itself to change this by attempting an ambitious broad stroke. Yahoo earlier in 2008 opened up its search platform, which it calls SearchMonkey, to let objective outside programmers build applications that augment search for users.