Search: MSN and Google, et. al

I’ve been watching the chatter going on about search these days. Lots of voices have joined the conversation, and out of it, I think we’ll all be better searchers.

Robert Scoble writes: “There goes Scoble again talking about search”, a follow-up to several of his search-related articles. However, it was in one of Robert’s earlier posts, “Search for Toshiba music player demonstrates search engine weakness” he hit on a lot of what’s “wrong” with search, citing issues with the relevance of the results.

Robert found some support and took some good-natured hits from others in the blogosphere, but more importantly, he got people thinking about search and relevance. MSN has been keeping Robert posted on search developments, and he’s kind enough to share on his blog.  Oh.  MSN Search has a blog; in one post they discuss “Where’s my instant answer?”.

I’m actually pretty happy with the way I search: I don’t expect miracles from it. Like anything else, it’s a tool, and like any tool, can make the work easier or harder, depending on your use. “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” is among my favorite quotes. It applies here as well.

The engine cannot possibly derive your intent for a search unless you give it enough information. Simply putting in a product, like “HDTV” or “Toshiba Gigabeat” isn’t enough to tell an engine what you’re planning on doing with the information. In these cases (mostly because of sponsored links), you’re likely to get link intermediaries. This MSN Search for HDTV returns two manufacturing sites and one retailer (your mileage may differ as MSN is continually improving their relevance).

Including something more specific in MSN Search like “HDTV specifications” is a little better; it returns one retailer who actually links to a find and compare page. Not bad, but have we yet asked the correct question?

What are you doing with the HDTV? Buying? Getting repair? Learning about it? The simple inclusion of a verb works wonders for a search. Check these out:

  • BUY HDTV returns three retailers in the sponsored links section and several links on “How To” below.
  • REPAIR HDTV returns an HDTV repair service, although it’s on the OC.
  • LEARN HDTV returns an HDTV learning course from HP.

My search methodology (simple and potentially flawed as it may be) is to include the item I’m searching (a noun) and a verb identifying what I want to do and a location. You can see the fun I had with MSN search in my “Cool Treats with MSN Search” and “Cool Treats with MSN Search – Part Two” posts. Want to know one of the best things about MSN Search? Location, location, location.

MSN is detecting the location of my IP and using that as a component to search relevance. Hence:

BUY HDTV LAKE FOREST PARK gives me a helpful linked statement “Were you looking for ‘buy hdtv’ near Lake Forest Park, WA”, which, lo and behold, gives me a long list of retailers, some of whom are near Lake Forest Park. It also gives me a new web form, containing my ‘buy hdtv’ in the search box and a ‘local’ box containing ‘Lake Forest Park, WA’. But wait, the filter is set to “all”, and there’s a handy-dandy “Business Listings” link. Well, since I’m looking for someone to sell me an HDTV (hence the verb ‘buy’), I’m sure I can find a business to help me with this.

Whoops. Now the wind is out of my sails. The link returns “we couldn’t find any results”. How can this be? I know there’s a Best Buy, just up the road from me, right across the street from a Circuit City and down the block (I’m not kidding) from Video Only (which is where I bought my HDTV last December).

So, a few more clicks, a few more browser windows and I’m at the store locators for each of the companies.  This should be easier than this.

Original Post: October 16, 2005

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About Michael Coates
I am a pragmatic evangelist. The products, services and solutions I write about fulfill real-world expectations and use cases. I stay up-to-date on real products I use and review, and share my thoughts here. I apply the same lens when designing an architecture, product or when writing papers. I am always looking for ways that technology can create or enhance a business opportunity .. not just technology for technology's sake. My CV says: Seasoned technology executive, leveraging years of experience with enterprise and integration architectural patterns, executed with healthy doses of business acumen and pragmatism. That's me. My web site says: Technology innovations provide a myriad of opportunities for businesses. That said, having the "latest and greatest" for its own sake isn't always a recipe for success. Business successes gained through exploiting innovation relies on analysis of how the new features will enhance your business followed by effective implementation. Goals vary far and wide: streamlining operations, improving customer experience, extending brand, and many more. In all cases, you must identify and collect the metrics you can apply to measure your success. Analysis must be holistic and balanced: business and operational needs must be considered when capitalizing on a new technology asset or opportunity.

One Response to Search: MSN and Google, et. al

  1. Pingback: HP: PCs and Tablets, Services, Autonomy and the IBM Playbook « OpsanBlog

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