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Why search is (still) hard.

Techmeme led me to this write up on ReadWriteWeb.
The write-up is a summary of a talk titled "Search is a Hard Problem" given by Udi Manber, a VP of Engineering at Google.

The article confirms that the devil is still in the details. Two little things from the article struck me:

  • The query pre-processing being attempted even before the search is run:
I knew Google did little things like stripping out articles from search strings, playing with participles/prefixes/suffixed and tenses to deliver better results, but I didn't realize they did stuff like this:

"For example, Google understands that 'GM' stands for 'General Motors', while 'GM foods' is actually 'genetically modified.' If you search for 'B&B AB', Google knows that is 'bed and breakfast in Alberta', while 'Ramstein AB' is 'Ramstein Airbase'."

  • The localization that is already part of the search engine.
That is typing in "government" in the US, takes you the the US government homepage, whereas typing it in, say, Australia take you to the Australian government's page.

Effective search results are really about getting at the intent of the user from what he/she has typed in and matching it to the attributes of the data that you've chosen to store. And given, that according to him, 20-25% of the queries they see each day they haven't seen before (and most of the world is still getting online) its going to be an ever-present challenge.


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