Do we have a problem with search?

There was been lots of discussion about whether a Googlopoly is a good or bad thing. Sure they may have a virtual monopoly on search but they are somewhat of a benevolent one so what is the problem. But even with benevolence, there can be a lack of diversity. So when a friend told me that they were going to be doing lots of work for Microsoft to ensure that there were a variety of search options, I decided to think just a little about it.

As bloggers who get some decent traffic know (and I include myself amongst them). Google’s approach has generated some power. Let me give you a good example of this. Last year I installed Word 2007 (which I love) but Mathtype (a program I have used for over a decade for equation editing did not work so well and Microsoft’s internal option sucked). So I contacted Design Science who make Mathtype and they sent me a solution. The solution wasn’t on their site and so I posted it here as a post. That was in February 2007 and by the end of the year it was one of my most read posts.

Now it isn’t regular readers who were creating those hits. Instead, it was searchers who were coming to me from Google. Look here, it is still the number three rank in the search “mathtype in word 2007.” But what does diversity buy us? Well, for Yahoo it is number 2 on the list and for Microsoft’s Live Search it is number 1! And all this is 18 months later.

So is this diversity a good thing? I guess so but it is not in Microsoft’s favour. While it is good that my post appears high soon after it is posted. I have updated nothing since then and so the official site is surely the better one.

And why is the post still ranking high at all in all three? It isn’t because of citations to that particular post — there are none that I can see. It is more likely a function of the fact that my blog itself is ‘just out of the long tail’ and gets citations to it for its economics (not its Word functionality tech support). This does not strike me as efficient in terms of overcoming information overload and sorting out quality.

But there is another mystery here. Use Google Blogsearch for this search and I am nowhere to be found. Although it is unclear whether there is value there.

Search technologies based on citations have been a boon but we are still very far from what would be considered an objectively good search algorithm that can be relied upon to sort out quality and timeliness.

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