A Search Death Report a Decade Too Late

February 3, 2013

I wrote a feature for Searcher Magazine in 2003 called “In Search of…the Good Search.” The original title was “Search Is Dead.” I picked up the theme in a number of Beyond Search articles; for example, “The Search Is Dead Question.”

I was interested in the February 2013 write up “The End of the Web, Computers, and Search as We Know It.” The main idea is that search is dead. I am okay with the premise. I did find the following statement interesting in light of the explosion of interest in making information in academic papers free which is bubbling along with the Google agreement to pay France for links.

Here’s the passage I noted:

But it’s about time: “Bring me what I want” is almost always more useful than “Let me rummage around and see what I can find.” No matter how fast it seems, most search is a waste of time. In a way, we are using time (i.e., the time-based structure) to gain time. Instead of doing an endless series of separate searches, we tune the knobs on our stream-browser to continuously feed us just the information we need. This future doesn’t just kill the operating system, browser, and search as we know it — it changes the meaning of “computer” as we know it, too. Whether large or small (e.g., a smartphone), a computer’s main function in the near future will be tuning in to — as a car radio tunes in a broadcast station — the constantly flowing global cyberflow. We won’t care much about the computer devices themselves since we’ll be more focused on the world of information … and our lives as attached to it.

My thought is that the subtext for this remark rests upon the chronological approach in Scopeware. But when I ran a query for the system, Google had nothing substantive but Bing.com produced a reference to LegalTech.com and a download link on Softpedia.

My view:

  1. The death of search took place with the rise of pay to play services. Online advertising is the main engine of growth. As pay to play grew, the likelihood that different types of retrieval systems would become the next big thing has dwindled. After Google went public, the old precision and recall model ended up in the morgue.
  2. Search has been devalued by the systems marketed aggressively by the Big Five in search. These were Autonomy, Convera, Endeca, Fast Search, and Verity. Each installation left licensees with some surprises. None of these outfits exist as a self standing multi billion dollar, absolutely essential solution. Vestiges of the legacy of these breakthrough systems may be seen in the HP Autonomy dust up in my opinion.
  3. The stampede to predictive analytics, business intelligence, and personalized systems is little more than a way to get ride of the hassle of making the user craft a query and using smart software to tell the hapless what he or she needs to know. Do these systems work? In my book, the marketing is better than the technology at this time. Licensing pure search is not what most vendors do. The pitch is for customer support, Big Data, and sentiment. Search is a tough sell in 2003 and is even a tougher sell today.

I am okay with brave new worlds, nifty technology, and total immersion in pay to play. I just want to shift the moment of death back a decade. Reporting about a death long after it occurred is similar to the disappearance of content in a Web centric world. Maybe the Library of Congress will save the day with its archive of Twitter messages.

Stephen E Arnold, February 3, 2013

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