David Chung Park

October 31, 2013

Where is search heading?

Filed under: Startup Philosophy — davidchungpark @ 11:18 AM

From early Yahoo (manual directories) to Google (citation rank algorithms) to…? William Wu, one of the co-founders of HiTCH, shared some random thoughts about search, which I found illuminating.

Since the inception of search, there have been two competing schools of thought about the way data should be stored and retrieved: navigational vs. direct. Here is a quote from Wikipedia:

=== begin quote ===
The web search world, since its very beginning, has offered two paradigms:

(1) Navigational search uses a hierarchy structure (taxonomy) to enable users to browse the information space by iteratively narrowing the scope of their quest in a predetermined order, as exemplified by Yahoo! Directory, DMOZ, etc.

(2) Direct search allows users to simply write their queries as a bag of words in a text box. This approach has been made enormously popular by Web search engines.

For those old enough to remember the early days of Yahoo was literally a directory of the internet where Filo and Yang manually organized the web for us. While that was useful for a while, the number of websites just outstripped the number of editors. Navigational search just couldn’t work with the deluge of website.

Then came a bunch of algo oriented solutions, Hotbot, AltaVista, etc. and then finally Google where the PageRank, ie citation rank, algo could expose the most relevant (or popular) website for the keyword(s) that you used.

Now there’s an explosion of textual data and the PageRank algo seems to be inappropriate for that kind of data. We almost want to go back to the old Yahoo days for someone to manually organize that information for us. We know that’s not humanly feasible. Here comes cheap computing, machine learning and natural language processing (potentially) to the rescue.

As Willam notes,

Perhaps the future lies somewhere in between navigational search and
direct search. Here’s the rest of the Wikipedia quote:

=== begin quote ===
Over the last few years, the direct search paradigm has gained
dominance and the navigational approach became less and less popular.
Recently, a new approach has emerged, combining both paradigms, namely
the faceted search approach. Faceted search enables users to navigate
a multi-dimensional information space by combining text search with a
progressive narrowing of choices in each dimension. It has become the
prevailing user interaction mechanism in e-commerce sites and is being
extended to deal with semi-structured data, continuous dimensions, and
folksonomies.

Perhaps…let’s see what the future holds.

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