Why No Exploratory Search on the Web?

Daniel makes a provocative statement:

“One of the recurring objections to exploratory search is that it can’t work for the web.”

While I suspect that he is correct about this being the common wisdom, I find myself wondering about the sources of that conception.  Why is this a commonly held belief?  I can think of five possible objections to exploratory search on the web, five reasons why companies might say that exploratory search can’t work:

  1. Exploratory search is not needed.  Users do not have exploratory information needs within the web environment. Exploratory search can’t work if users don’t need it.
  2. Users do need it, but the type of data found on the web does not lend itself to exploratory information seeking behaviors.  Web data is “wrong” for this task.
  3. Web data does lend itself to exploratory behaviors, but we don’t have enough processing power to make it scale to web-size collections.
  4. We have enough processing power to make it scale to web-sized collections, but we’re too lazy and/or lack the talent and expertise to make it work.
  5. Our company has the expertise needed to make it work, but when it does work, it would destroy or at least compete against our business model.

I am curious about which, whether any or all, of these are reasons that web search engines companies give for why exploratory search can’t work on the web.  I am not saying that any of these reasons are correct or incorrect.  I am simply wondering which of these reasons are the ones given by the dominant web search engine companies.  (Aside: Note the gradual shift, from Reason #1 to Reason #5, in blaming the user versus blaming themselves.  I really am curious about where the web search companies point the finger.)

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2 Responses to Why No Exploratory Search on the Web?

  1. 2a. Users do need it, but they are too stupid and lazy to type more than a few query terms, and don’t want to think about the search process.

  2. jeremy says:

    Yeah, I guess I do hear (2a) a lot. I’ve always never believed it, though, because in the same breath I hear statements from the search engines about how users will formulate and reformulate their queries over and over, half a dozen times, until they get it right. So they’re already exhibiting traits of non-laziness and search process thought.

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