Search and Seizure

Search and Seizure

Seek and ye shall find - too much!

I've taken great interest in the recent developments in search engines, not only because I'm a keen observer of technological advances, I also have trouble finding things on my own.

Searching for just Web pages is so last millennium. Search engines are now gearing up to search blogs, podcasts, photos, music, books, the planet and my desktop. Although searching blogs (an acronym of BLathering, Opinion & Guesses) seems unnecessary, because if I really need 20 ill-informed, poorly reasoned, prejudiced opinions I can just go to the pub on a Friday night.

Making books and music available for searching has caused some consternation among authors, where consternation is a synonym for copyright lawsuits. It's an argument between properly rewarding intellectual property owners, and making information available for the good of all people. The argument for social good slightly weakens given its main proponents are those who stand to make money out of it via search page advertising.

Searching desktops as well as Web sites is a sensible idea, and I'm amazed how many things I search for already exist in a desktop file from some previous forgotten search. What I really need is a search engine that finds not just items on my desktop but items on my desk, which currently requires an archaeological dig to excavate some of the lower layers. A true desktop search tool would, when I enter "article required for deadline" return a URL (Universal Room Locator) of "its://underneath.the/magazine/PCWorld/May05".

Now I can even search the planet. An Italian looking at Google Earth images of his house (which is what 99 percent of people use it for) discovered an unknown Roman villa nearby. I've started checking my holiday house to see if the lawns need mowing. Microsoft Virtual Earth has now entered the battle against Google Earth. Great - having witnessed years of one American administration fighting for ownership of the planet, now we've got two US companies battling over it.

I'm concerned that search companies are developing blending algorithms to create news items by stripping lines from many sources and combining them to match my profile, so I'll have no idea what's fact, opinion, advertising or spin. So, no real change from the current media. The idea that Yahoo, Google or Microsoft can shape the news is even more scary than News Corp doing it.

The biggest current activity in search companies is searching for employees. Google's search for a manager of their Chinese R&D centre got a result of Microsoft executive Kai-Fu Lee, while Microsoft searched the legal system for ways to stop them. When Lee searched for 50 people to run the centre he received over 1000 "hits" of resumes within the first four hours. A fairly typical search result, but I bet only the first two resumes were relevant to the job. (Do you suppose the butler from Ask Jeeves was one of the applicants, given the rumour he's being made redundant?)

Everyone wants to truly understand me so they can personalize my searching experience. Yahoo is trialling an instant search that returns results before I've finished typing, and possibly before I know what I'm looking for. The klutzy search tool breaks results into personalized topics, where personalized appears to mean topics they've thought of rather than anything related to me. Watson offered me a "Personal Research Assistant" for $10 per month, which seemed appealing until I realized it was only a toolbar add-on.

With the sheer volume of data all these search tools want to present to me, my next search is to find someone to teach me to ultra-speed read.

Bruce Kirkham is a veteran IT satirist and professional speaker, specializing in leading edge

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