Search Innovations: Revisiting the Past

December 5, 2013

I printed out an article from ReadWrite Web five or six years ago. The story was “Top 17 Search Innovations Outside of Google.” I suggest that anyone tracking Yahoo’s decision to jump back into search or struggling with the dearth of Web search options may want to read this article. I think the list, prepared in May 2007, is a useful reminder of the lack of progress in search.

Let me highlight five of the innovations. These are “breakthroughs” that various search vendors and satraps have explained as the “next big thing.” Well, maybe.

  1. Personalization. The idea that the user does not see a list of results that are believed to be objective and relevant to the query is fascinating. When vendors filter information, vendors control the information agenda. Quite an innovation. I thought something similar happened in other spheres of interest years ago.
  2. Algorithm improvement. I like the idea that search has broken free of the algorithms that have been in use since the early days of SDC, SMART, and STAIRS. If the “improvement” erodes precision and recall, is that a good thing? If “improvement” means computational efficiency to reduce costs, is that a better thing?
  3. Parametric search. Yep, structured query language queries. What’s new? The fact that fewer professionals want to hassle with figuring out a query is fresher than the method itself.
  4. Semantic search. Does a user understand the upside and downside of semantic search? Do marketers? Oh, yeah.
  5. Results visualization. Hollywood style outputs have helped Palantir raise lots of money. Does a user know what a visualization “means”? Not too often.

The point is that the ReadWrite list makes clear that no significant progress in search has been made in the last five or six years. Am I missing progress?

To get some details about the dead end for search and content processing, check out the vendor case studies at The similarity among systems, features, and methods is interesting.

Stephen E Arnold, December 5, 2013


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