On Wednesday I attended the Executive Round Table on Semantic Search, at the 2009 Semantic Technology Conference. Researchers from Ask, Hakia, Yahoo, Google, Powerset/Bing, and True Knowledge were on the panel. In the next few days I hope to give a longer write-up of the session over on the FXPAL blog. In the meantime I wanted to quickly point out one nugget, and one related Tweet.
The panel covered a large number of topics. But it was inevitable that the moderator would turn to the Google panelist (Peter Norvig) and ask him what he thought about Bing. There has been too much buzz lately for that question not to be asked. I was pleasantly surprised by his answer. I’m not going to risk quoting him, only paraphrasing. And if I misrepresent anything, any mistakes are mine, and not intentional.
[Paraphrase] Norvig’s first answer to the Bing question was to say that he likes the idea of innovation in the user interface. He thinks that there is a lot of room for more such innovation, and for a lot of different reasons. Historically, there has been too much emphasis on getting the ranking right, at the expense of all else. Of course (he added) a quality ranking is something that you absolutely must have. But for too long it has been the only thing that has been worked on, and that needs to change. He thinks Bing has made some good steps, and that there are a lot more that can be made as well.
Wow! This is not the Google that I’ve known for a decade, the Google that has actively shunned most forms of interactivity, feedback, and exploration other than spelling correction. Continue reading…
I just came across a Wired article today on a new search push from Microsoft, which will supposedly be named Bing. It touches on some of the issues that we were discussing in yesterday’s comment thread, in particular:
People thought online e-mail was just fine and more or less converged on the same specific set of features — until Google came along and gave people gigs of disk space, organized e-mails by conversations and let people send big attachments. Soon Yahoo and Microsoft were forced to follow. So too with search. Google appears to have created the staple recipe, but there is a clear hunger for something more. Unfortunately people may not know what that something extra is until they see it — and that’s something not even Google has been able to figure out. So what do we know about what web searchers want? Weitz gave Wired.com a look at some of what Microsoft found when it when “back to the data” — namely Live.com search results — in a bid to make a qualitative leap in search performance. The data shows rampant clicking by many on the back button, while others get desperate enough to look to the second page of results. And when that doesn’t work, the users try again, coming up with slightly different terms. That’s about half of the searches. Only a quarter of searches return a good result — meaning an answer to a question (think a stock price), a satisfying search engine result or a happy ad click.
While this is a good start, it’s still not clear to me that the interpretations of the measurements are correct. Just because someone doesn’t click something, does that mean the search was a failure? Just because someone did click something, does it mean that the search was a success? It is not to difficult to come up with reasonable and abundant, counterexamples. And it’s still not clear how to differentiate task failure from process failure.
On a slightly different note, I found the following excerpt from the article particularly interesting: Continue reading…
Google finally acquiesces, and starts exposing more advanced, user-controllable search result refactorization options. See here, here, and here:
But as people get more sophisticated at search they are coming to us to solve more complex problems. To stay on top of this, we have spent a lot of time looking at how we can better understand the wide range of information that’s on the web and quickly connect people to just the nuggets they need at that moment. We want to help our users find more useful information, and do more useful things with it. Our first announcement today is a new set of features that we call Search Options, which are a collection of tools that let you slice and dice your results and generate different views to find what you need faster and easier. Search Options helps solve a problem that can be vexing: what query should I ask? Let’s say you are looking for forum discussions about a specific product, but are most interested in ones that have taken place more recently. That’s not an easy query to formulate, but with Search Options you can search for the product’s name, apply the option to filter out anything but forum sites, and then apply an option to only see results from the past week.
I’m pleased to see that it is finally happening. For years I’ve clamored about how frustrating it is that Google not only hasn’t given users these sorts of options, but has actively campaigned against such functionality: They have often said that exposing advanced tools is “too complex” for users and that it would clutter the famously clean Google interface. Perhaps the long-held belief that simplicity trumps all other considerations is finally being let go, with the understanding that functionality is sometimes more important than bare and minimal interfaces. This is a good thing.
Willingness to expose these tools helps topple the myth that is often perpetuated, about how HCIR interfaces offer the user too much choice and therefore do more harm than good Continue reading…
Last month, in reaction to the “Unreasonable Effectiveness of Data” paper that made the rounds, Stephen Few from the Business Intelligence community wrote an interesting post:
The notion that “we need more data” seems to have always served as a fundamental assumption and driver of the data warehousing and business intelligence industries. It is true that a missing piece of information can at times make the difference between a good or bad decision, but there is another truth that we must take more seriously today: most poor decisions are caused by lack of understanding, not lack of data. The way that data warehousing and business intelligence resources are typically allocated fails to reflect this fact. The more and faster emphasis of these efforts must shift to smarter and more effective. Although current efforts to build bigger and faster data repositories and better production reporting systems should continue, they should take a back seat to efforts to increase the data sense-making skills of workers and to improve the tools that support these skills.
This is a point that I wholely subscribe to, and an aspect of which I encountered the other day when attempting to use web search engines to satisfy my “hidden cafes in prague” information need. Continue reading…
Music Information Retrieval continues to be an excellent place to play around with the intersection of search, recommendation, user-guided exploration, and explanatory (transparent) algorithms.
First, check out the announcement of Music Explaura from Stephen Green at Sun Research. Stephen writes: