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BizReport : Trends & Ideas archives : January 02, 2007

Will The New Year Herald Better Search Solutions?

There’s quite a debate raging in the search engine community concerning the future development of searching and search engines, and how to make it easier, and more accurate, for the masses.

by Helen Leggatt

On January 1, 2007, the New York Times featured an article centred on Powerset, which has set search engine aficionados’ tongues wagging again, after a blogstorm back in October 2006.

It is, quite literally, a war of words.

Users currently search by typing in keywords, tailoring them to obtain the most relevant results. Some users will naturally enter stopwords such as “or”, “by” or “for”. These stopwords are ignored by most search engines.

On the other hand, Natural Language Searching (NLS) takes in to consideration all stopwords and their relationship to the keywords and is supposed to return far more relevant and accurate results.

Several companies are working on NLS-based search technology. The most recent on the scene is the aforementioned Powerset, an internet start up boasting a Silicon Valley “who’s who” of investors and entrepreneurs, including a couple of ex-Google experts and the founders of PayPal and Napster. Powerset has raised around $12.5M in venture capital.

Hakia, a New York based company, is also developing a “meaning-based” NLS search engine with the help of Sheffield University.

It remains to be seen whether NLS will change the search engine landscape. Google appears to have moved on and is rumored to be developing a speech recognition search engine.

Louis Monier, the French founder of the Alta Vista search engine, who is now at Google working on a secret project, said (via the Sunday Times ) he gets a dozen invitations a year to join new search companies.

“Every time, they have maybe one small lever that they suspect is huge. They don’t realise that [all] they have [is] a better door latch on a [Boeing] 747. Now all they have to do is build a 747. None of those ideas I’ve seen are compelling.”

There are many start ups hoping to cash in on the lucrative search engine scene. “It’s very difficult to innovate on the scale that we do,” said Monier. “You need a really radical idea, and need to execute it well.”

Tags: Google, Hakia, keywords, search engines

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