Search as we know it has to change. No doubt about it. Devices such as SixthSense have to appear in faster pace to eliminate the gap between human and computers. In future, we should not go to our computers or even to our PDA’s to search. Through sensors, and wearable devices we should be able to almost automatically perform searches and find meaningful information.
In the future we should be able to look at a for sale property and with a gesture, such as making a rectangle with our hands, information like price, offers will be recited to us.
In fact, I can almost see the device SixthSense combined with directed sound from Woody Norris can perhaps one day give us exactly that. However, until then we have to deal with search engines like Google and Microsoft Live.
Unfortunately they both have one problem. They only look at the keywords, but have no clue about meaning of the words. So for them to become useful, they have to understand the meaning of the words. As discussed previously this would be a semantic search. Good news is that recently there has been some interesting progress in this front from both Google and Microsoft. They both have announced a form of semantic search.
Google Semantic Search
From time to time we have seen improvements in Google where it recognizes sentences like “what time is it”, “34C to F”. However, it haven’t been able to truly understand the semantics of different words, but that seems to change. Recently Google announced that they are “deploying a new technology that can better understand associations and concepts related to your search,” Source
Therefore, now when you search for terms such as “Newton laws”, Google shows related words like “newtons first law”, “newton law inertia”:
This is very important because Google didn’t just look for the exact word “Newton laws ” everywhere, but in fact, it understood that newton law of inertia is actually semantically related to newton laws. Hence it displayed it in the related links section.
Of course, this is not perfect as, personally, I don’t much care about these related links. I would rather click on the first link returned and dig through the articles. But consider this a start. If search engines understand meanings of the words, the future will be very different.
Where did this Technology come from?
This new Google technology is as a result of Google’s acquisition of Orion which happened in 2006. This technology worked as following:
“OrionTM finds pages where the content is about a topic strongly related to the key word. It then returns a section of the page, and lists other topics related to the key word so the user can pick the most relevant.”Source
It looks Google is finally making use of Orion.
Kumo – Microsoft Semantic Search
In addition to Google, Microsoft has been building a semantic search engine too. It is called Kumo. It is not publicly available yet, but recently there was a memo circulated inside Microsoft that invited Microsoft employees to test it- they have re-routed all live.com traffic to go through Kumo.
Here is a bit of the memo:
The Search team needs you. We’ve been working hard to improve our search service and want to share the progress we are making with you. We are launching a new test program called kumo.com for employees to try and provide feedback. Kumo.com exists only inside the corporate network, and in order to get enough feedback we will be redirecting internal live.com traffic over to the test site in the coming days. Kumo is the codename we have chosen for the internal test.
In spite of the progress made by search engines, 40% of queries go unanswered; half of queries are about searchers returning to previous tasks; and 46% of search sessions are longer than 20 minutes. These and many other learnings suggest that customers often don’t find what they need from search today.
We believe we can provide a better and more useful search experience that helps you not just search but accomplish tasks. During the test, features will vary by country, but you’ll see results organized in a way that saves you more time. An explorer pane on the left side of results pages will give you access to tools that help you with your tasks. Other features like single session history and hover preview help accomplish more in search sessions.
Interestingly enough Kumo has a similar concept as Google. When you search for let say “Bose Lifestyle 48”, it provides related links on the left rail such as “images”, “review”, “manual”. This seems to be a lot more useful then related links Google provides at the bottom of the page. However, since it is not publicly available I can’t say how it would behave when I type in “Newton laws”.
We know that neither Google nor Microsoft will get this 100%, but the important thing is that work is done towards true semantic search.
As we perfect search engines we need to also keep our focus on the way we perform search. As I mentioned earlier the future cannot be that we type in our search terms into a text box. We need introduce new devices that simplify human computer interaction and make meaningful information available literally at your finger tips. Good news is devices like SixthSense are coming up, so keep your hopes alive.