Search Is FAR From Being Done

    October 9, 2005

The dinner tonight was really fun. Renee and Paul Mooney put together quite a great group of more than 30 geeks.

I can’t tell you everyone who was there, but Jason Calacanis was sitting next to me most of the night and everyone sitting at the table was interesting.

Anyway, I’m just doing my scanning of feeds. And I see James Robertson gets on me for my search engine rantings lately. “I really don’t know how anyone is going to satisfy Robert’s request.”

It went downhill from there. His readers are ragging on me for not using more words in my searches (sorry, most people use only one word when they search, but as you’ll see below, adding more words actually doesn’t help much on many searches and often makes things even worse). And, worse, at least one commenter over there called into question my motives. Hey, I specifically pointed out a search where NONE of the engines are good (and where Google actually is better than us) and most of the searches actually made Google look good compared to MSN.

Another fairly common argument is to ask me to go around asking other human beings “HDTV?” and see what they say. That’s lame. We don’t use search engines the same way we use friends. And, anyway, if I went into an HDTV store, I’d ask “do you have a list of HDTV manufacturers?” and they’d be able to provide me a list right away. At my camera store I had a list of all the camera brands. In fact, I often let customers see my wholesale catalogs. That info is out there, just not available in search engines. Reading CNET tonight I see that Google’s CEO said it might be 300 years before Google indexes all the world’s information and makes it searchable. Now THAT’S what I’m talking about! Although, 300 years? I doubt it. I suspect we’ll get to 99.9 % within 30 years. Eric Schmidt should read Ray Kurzweil’s new book, the Singularity is Near, for why. By the way, MSN gives a better result than Google when you search on the Singularity is Near. Here’s that result on Google and here’s the same search on MSN.

It was HDTV, right? I’m looking for the manufacturers. I guess Robertson’s commenters didn’t read my entire post. I also did searches for “HDTV manufacturers” and “HDTV set makers” “HDTV Products” and “HDTV brands.” (all those are Google results, but you can do the same on MSN or Yahoo, they give similar results).

Do any of those link to Sony’s official HDTV site or other manufacturer’s sites? Nope. Part of that is Sony’s fault. Sony did a Flash site without thinking about search engine optimization. Lame.

But a lot of this is very real business opportunity for search engine companies. See, search is a LONG way from being done. That was my point. It’s no more done than it was in 1997.

And, yes, I know about Froogle and all the other shopping sites. Here’s a hint: those sites don’t point to the official Sony HDTV site either. Nor the Panasonic HDTV site. Nor the Samsung HDTV site. Or any of the other manufacturers.

Here’s a clue. If a human can find a few manufacturers within a few minutes, then a search engine should be able to find them even faster. After all, humans design search engines and the algorithm I used to find the Sony, Panasonic, and Samsung site can be replicated pretty easily.

You just need to think differently about search.

Finally, it’s not about HDTV. It’s about anything you want to search for. Do a search for “Automobile Choices“, for instance. Where’s Mercedes? GM? Ford? Honda? Toyota? Etc. I guess those aren’t automobile choices.

When I search on “iPod Competitors” I expect to see a list of manufacturers of products that compete with the iPod. Is that what you get?

We just walked past a Sandisk billboard, for instance, for the SanDisk MP3 Player line. They are spending a lot of money on advertising, but search engines don’t know about them. At least not when I search on “MP3 Players“.

And if you search on “MP3 Player Company Sites” looking for Web sites that are only to MP3 Players, well, you get zero results.

So don’t tell me that sticking more words in an engine will improve the chances of me finding what I want. Search isn’t done.

Oh, and who says I’m the #1 Robert? Why your favorite search engine, Google, of course! Yes, I’m more famous than Robert Redford. More famous than Robert Mondavi, the winemaker (I wish I were as rich as him). More famous than Robert De Niro. Way higher than rock star Robert Plant.

Searching on Most famous Robert moves me down the list a bit, but not far. I’m #24 on that list, if I counted right. If you search on Famous Robert I move up the list to #6. Ahead of Robert Capa, famous photographer and lots of other Roberts.

Why do I point to such an egotistical search? Well, to demonstrate to you that search isn’t very good. There’s no way I’m more relevant to most of the human population for the word “Robert” than, say, Robert Redford. No one, including me, can make the claim that I belong at the top of the relevancy scale there.

Do you want me to go on demonstrating more searches? I can go on all night. Search on: the best personal computer, for instance. Does your favorite personal computer show up? Neither the Toshiba that I like, nor the Apple that my brother-in-law likes show up in the first 10, which is all that really matters since most people don’t look beyond the first 10 results.

Now, can you use search engines to find what you want? Yeah, with a bit of playing here and there you can. But my point is why make the user retrain? Why not make the search engines smarter?

Oh, heck, let’s keep going. I’m looking for some great sushi in San Francisco. Now, find me one sushi restaurant in the first 10 results. Just one, I ask you. No, there aren’t any. You need to click twice to find any sushi restaurants and even if you click three times you aren’t sure you are seeing a comprehensive list.

Or search for the Best freeway in California. Now, tell me, is there any reality there? The best freeway, by the way, is Fwy 280 between San Francisco and Woodside. But I can’t find that mentioned anywhere. I found Freeway Anti-War signs. A prison. Fun places. Construction. Guide to Southern California. And more.

Oh, let’s keep going. I passed a police station on the way to the hotel. I wondered if I searched for Police Stations in California would I get a list of those?

Hey, top link is a TV station. Then something about Megan’s law.

Or, how about this one? I’m a little hungry. Can you find In-N-Out locations? Sorta, but it takes you two clicks and maybe more. For instance, you might get fooled and click on the top result. That doesn’t bring back any locations at all. Neither does the second link. In fact, I gave up after getting ratholed in a Wikipedia page looking for locations.

But, no, you keep believing search is done and can’t be improved. I hope our competitors are thinking the same thing.

To be fair, here’s the results on MSN:

Robert. I’m #3 on MSN, but #1 on Google.
“HDTV manufacturers”
“HDTV set makers”
“HDTV Products”
“HDTV brands”
“Automobile Choices”
“iPod Competitors”
“MP3 PLayers”
“MP3 Player Company Sites”
Most famous Robert
Famous Robert
the best personal computer — Apple fans should like MSN better!!!
great sushi in San Francisco
Best freeway in California
Police Stations in California
In-N-Out locations — MSN is WAY better on this one!

Anyway, my point wasn’t to get into a rathole discussion on any one search term. It was to point out that at almost ANY search term you can find ways to improve the engine. But, I’ll keep hammering this one in until people get it and see that search is FAR from being done.

By the way, what’s the way you rate search engines? What will get you to switch to a different engine than Google?

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Robert Scoble is the founder of the Scobleizer blog. He works as’s Vice President of Media Development.

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