A few days ago there was a Techcrunch interview of Google’s Eric Schmidt. Here’s the bit that struck me:
[TC] The long term goal of Google search, he says, is to give the user one exactly right answer to a query:
[Schmidt] So I don’t know how to characterize the next 10 years except to say that we’ll get to the point – the long-term goal is to be able to give you one answer, which is exactly the right answer over time.
The one answer? Are you kidding me? That’s Google’s long term goal? That’s the extent of their imagination when it comes to information seeking? Granted, even that narrow problem isn’t solved yet, so I’m not against more work being done in that area. But where the love for Exploratory Search? Search is so many things, including but not limited to learning, comparing and contrasting, synthesizing, discovery, planning and forecasting, as so on.
All of these information needs go beyond finding the one answer. Sometimes there is no one answer, and the goal of the search is the discovery that multiple answers exist. Sometimes you don’t even know what question to ask, and the goal of the search is the accretion of enough knowledge so as to be able to ask the right questions in the first place. (See Belkin’s ASK model of information seeking, in which it is explicitly acknowledged that a single text is likely not sufficient for satisfying a user’s anomalous state of knowledge.)
Yet Google’s long term goals do not include supporting anything other than “the one right answer” finding? Unbelievable.
Daniel Tunkelang read this same interview and sees a bit more hope than I do. He sees some of Schmidt’s comments as suggestive of an increased willingness to engage in HCIR, which itself is more exploratory by nature. I don’t see it, though. The CEO of the corporation has spoken clearly: “The long-term goal is to be able to give you one answer.”
That sounds no different from what Google is trying to do right now. The long-term goal does not include any growth into or acknowledgment of other forms of user information seeking behavior. Rather, it is more of the same of what they already do now. Just piled higher and deeper.