Is there a future for traditional search engines?

Last week I was having a stimulating conversation with one my colleagues (@ido_guy) from the IBM Haifa Research, the lab responsible for the research that underpins the Social Search & Analytics capabilities of IBM Connections. The research project is called SaND, which stands for “Social Networks and Discovery” and comprises a number of components:

  • SaND: which analyzes and indexes social content.
  • SaND Streams: which analyzes and indexes social events, such as file checkins, status updates, comments, following, tagging, favoriting, activities, etc.
  • SaNDVis: which provides visualization and navigation on top of the social-semantic indices underpinning SaND.

SaND Streams - Social Analytics & Discovery - IBM Connections

 

Anyway… during our chat we were discussing how people typically acquire information these days with more and more content being sourced via social streams. In fact many of the new social analytics and aggregations services rely on social streams, such as twitter, for the list of URLs to collect and index. This allows them to strategically focus on gathering value content (particularly if harnessing read statistics as well as sharing statistics) and avoid having to crawl the entire web (an information glut that no-one in their right mind wants to index).

However despite this growing dependency on social streams for information access, the Internet still doesn’t have any decent search & ranking capabilities for streaming content. There are some exceptions, such as Topsy, which is focused on the search & ranking side of social streams. However for the most part, wherever some form of streams search does exist, as with Twitter or Google+, at best it really only serves as a filter. Even Google, which is best positioned to provide us a new integrated search capability is struggling to give us the kind of Relevency/Recency Pivoting or Social Ranking that is critical for any streams search capability.

And assuming that this trend is only going to continue over the coming years, it brings into question the future of traditional search engines which are poorly positioned to compete within this new paradigm. So my question is this… Will new search providers come to the fore and give us what the traditional search engines seem incapable of doing? A single search experience that can harness the social stream to give us socially ranked content search.

As an aside… a few months ago I wrote a couple of blog posts that present slight variations on this topic:

  • Curation: To be, is to be perceived“, which supports the notion that content sharing is the truest measurement of its value, particularly when factoring in reads and also profile of the people sharing and reading.
  • Is Streams the new Content?“, which was one of my earlier perambulations on the topic of Activity Streams as the new information delivery vehicle. This article particular focuses on some of the additional pieces of information you get with streams that you don’t get with content alone, such as sharing, tagging, commenting, or reading.

 

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