New York Times Says it's Time to Rethink Search

Friday, August 19, 2011

In a recent article entitled, “A Call to Rethink Internet Search,” New York Times technology reporter, Steve Lohr, discusses the rising call for greater innovation and experimentation in web search. Lohr focuses on the criticisms voiced by University of Washington computer scientist, Oren Etzioni, in a recent essay published in Nature, concerning the need to move beyond keyword search to natural language search and question answering. Here’s an exciting prediction from the original Nature article:

"We could soon view today's keyword searching with the same nostalgia and amusement reserved for bygone technologies such as electric typewriters and vinyl records."  

It’s a much welcome sight to see a major mass media outlet like the Times start to cover the increasingly clamorous calls from various industry watchers and experts for something new in search. Etzioni’s plea for more research and resources committed to developing natural language processing-based search technology is just one of a number of different concerns that have been raised regarding the prevailing search paradigm.

In prior articles on this blog, we’ve discussed a range of these concerns, including Jeff Atwood’s complaints about Google’s susceptibility to spam from content farms like Demand Media and Nova Spivack’s skepticism of the ability of keyword search to remain useful in the wake of the exponentially increasing amount of content online. And of course, we ourselves have voiced concerns over the under-exploration of personalized search and the inability of keyword search to adequately support exploratory search. All of these concerns share an obvious common sentiment: web search is far too tightly confined to keyword search orthodoxy, and the field is in serious need of some serious innovation.