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Search: Not as good as it gets

Search: Not as good as it gets

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"Search is boring," says Esther Dyson at the PC Forum search panel. Dyson, author of Release 1.0 and moderator of PC Forum, says this to a panel of search experts from Yahoo, Google, the real estate search start-up Zillow, and search engine marking firm Efficient Frontier. Not surprisingly, nobody on the panel agrees.

The next stages in search, the panel says, are the following:

First, personalizing search. Google's PageRank is "circa 1998," and it reinforces the tyranny of Webmasters. The next step is user-refined search, which explains the rise of social bookmarking sites (Del.icio.us, Digg, and Wink).

Then, better user interfaces. Google's static Web pages are old-school. Compare to Microsoft's and Yahoo's desktop search applications--much more productive to use. Also, sites like Zillow offer specialized interfaces for subsets of knowledge. (Also mentioned: Riya, the photo search technology, and Google's own Google Earth.)

Unforeseen consequences: What is search being used for? An interesting tidbit from Dyson: she was looking at hiring somebody and wanted to know more about him. So she Zillowed his house to find out whether he owned and for how long and to get an estimate on his wealth.

The final frontier: Very little of human knowledge is indexed; Yahoo's Jeff Weiner estimates it at 0.0058 percent. The panel calls this the "dark matter" of information. So there's a lot of work left to do for Google, Yahoo, and others. There's another company at PC Forum working on this problem directly: Tacit software, with its new consumer-grade knowledge-mining product, Illumio.

In other words, search isn't boring at all.

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