Sunday, August 19, 2007

Searching in Context

I certainly hope to see more and more subject specific search engines coming up which would hem a context (pertaining to the subject) for the user. Still, the ‘one-size-fits-all’ search engines can help the user to avoid getting flooded by a higher proportion of irrelevant search results.

Currently there are models which adopt a method of profiling user interests based on what websites they browse and what links they follow. But this becomes complex because the user searches in various contexts based on the task at hand. May be at one point the user is looking for some business proposal and later during the day is looking to buy a gift for someone.

A model adopted by, form clusters of similar search results. A user can pick from the relevant cluster to drill down to the information needed. Though this approach is certainly helpful, it imposes the site-generated clusters on users, which again may not be something that the user is interested in.

Instead of putting the load on the system to identify the context, I was wondering whether the generalist search engines would allow the user to provide a context of their search.

For example if the user is looking for research papers on neural networks, then ‘research paper’ become the search word and ‘neural networks’ becomes the context to look into. In popular search engines there is a provision of only one input field to enter information one is looking for. If the user enters ‘research papers on neural networks’ in the input field, the engine will treat ‘research’, ‘papers’, ‘neural’ and ‘network’ as independent search words. The initial few results may contain all the keywords, but later results may be obtained by making combinations of some of these search words.

May be I am trivializing the issue a bit too much, but can we not have two input boxes – one to enter the search word and the other for providing the context?

Note that this is not similar to ‘search with all of the words’. In the above example, we are searching only the search word. The search engines should map the user-provided context by parsing web pages and construing a context from the web page metadata.

To give a context while user searches for music, Google has a music search feature. Users have to enter their query after ‘music:’ in the input field and they get search results relevant to music. I hope search engines add such system-generated contexts by identifying popular searches from their search logs to do the least.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Subject Specific Search Engines

Heck! I am looking for some information and all I have is a ‘generalist’ There was a time when I was in awe of Google search engine for its simplicity – the simple one step search, the gigantic result base and that too in fraction of seconds. Phew! But what after that? I still have to spend a huge time getting to the relevant information. Google (or for that matter any other search engine) doesn’t help me reach relevant information quickly.

Websites without any optimization for search engines may never make it to the first few search result pages. May be that information would be helpful to me, but since I don’t get to see it in the first few pages of the search result and I lose my patience, I never reach that piece of information.

In India there are Sunday ‘Haats’ which is a make-shift weekly market where you get everything from grocery, electronics, durables, appliances, clothing to almost everything one needs to buy. The only thing a buyer needs is lot of time to search for the right item from that maze. Instead, if the buyer goes to a particular shop that sells the item, she will spend little time getting what she wants.

Similarly, instead of searching for information in an all-in-one search engine, if there are specialized search engines for various fields, the users can find ‘relevant’ information quickly. To cite a few examples, there can be search engines dedicated to sciences, medicine, or the engines can be product-specific.

This would also make a positive impact on advertising as the advertisers can effectively focus on their audience base. With Subject Specific Search Engines, site owners can list their sites on relevant search engines. Just like advertising on a single outdoor hoarding is not enough and ensuring that the product is advertised at strategic locations; similarly a website should be listed on relevant search engines for better effectiveness.