Nitin Karandikar sent me a link to his post on "Top 17 Search Innovations outside of Google" which reviews 17 different approaches to web search innovation. He also lists some of the companies leading the way in each area. Web search is a very popular topic for writers and bloggers. Charles Knight maintains a list of the Top 100 Alternative Search Engines and updates it monthly.
Web search is big business. Microsoft's Live Search is third in market share with about 10% of all web searches and it generates hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. It is no wonder that VCs and entrepreneurs are investing lots of time and money to discover The Next Big Thing in search.
Of all the approaches described by Nitin and listed by Charles Knight, I think three are promising; Natural Language Processing, Local Search, and Cell Phone Voice Search.
Natural Language Processing (NLP) has been around for a while. The idea is to get users to ask questions in conversational style, and then parse that question using NLP techniques to divine meaning and context. The problem is that most users only enter two words in a search...sometimes three words. No matter how sophisticated your NLP technology is you aren't going to gain a lot more context from two or three words. The real secret power of NLP is realized by applying it to the search index...not the search term. Meaning, analyze all the web pages in the index with the NLP and add lots of meta tags, meaning, and context to the index. Then when search queries come in you can match the keywords to the much richer index. Powerset is doing some ground breaking work in this area.
Local Search is a huge market. The easy part of local search has already been done. The big search engines have developed crawlers to crawl all web pages, parse and extract local identifying information, and cross reference it to other online data. The problem is that over 50% of small local businesses don't have web sites. A great local search experience requires that ALL local businesses are included and that the index be updated regularly. CitySquares Online is a Boston based startup attacking this problem.
Cell phone voice based search is an obvious opportunity, but very hard to do. It requires great voice recognition technology, a well organized local search index, a high quality voice response system, and special screen rendering technology to display the results on the cell phone screen. Parts of the technology exist today, but no one has combined all the pieces into a great user experience. This is a huge opportunity with no clear leader.
OK, now back to Nitin's list of 17 search innovation areas. Please go to his site to get more detail on each one. Unless you are a search geek like me you may find this stuff boring, but here are the categories;
- Natural Language Processing
- Vertical Search
- Multimedia Search
- Restricted Data Sources
- Domain Specific Search
- Parametric Search
- Social network filtering
- Human directed search
- Semantic search
- Discovery linked search
- Classification, Tags, Clustering approaches
- Results visualization
- Results refinement and filters
- Specialized search platforms
- Related searches
- Search agents
What do you think? Who will be the next Google? Which approach to search will provide the most value? Place your bets and you could be the next search billionaire.