Internet users are suffering increasing problems finding what they want. Often you will find that whatever you are searching for advertisers, or “aggregation” software brings to the top of the search engine listing material that’s not directly relevant. Clearly, the search engines attempt to bring you the most relevant results. However, with the explosion of online content, thanks to blogging and the likes of YouTube, the situation for search engines is going to get worse, rather than better. Try as they might to bring us relevant results, their failure rate is going to increase.
Take for instance Squidoo. This is a fantastic idea that allows anyone to set up a web page with information, links and so on. The problem is it is easy to hi-jack and for what are loosely called “spammers” to infiltrate the system. The same is true for MySpace or any of the social networking sites. Add to the mix the fact that anyone can use Wiki software to set up sites for open contributions plus the widespread use of forums and you can see the content that search engines need to index is exploding at faster than exponential rates.
And this is only the tip of the ice-berg. Less than 1% of the people who use YouTube actually contribute to it. Of the 85% of Americans who use the Internet, only 8% actually add anything to it – most are just consumers of the medium. The problems faced by the search engines now will be dwarfed into insignificance if everyone started contributing.
The inevitable result of increased contributions and the “pollution of search” by spammers and the like is the end of search engines as we know them. Already there are signs that Yahoo! had it right. In the dim distant past of the Internet, Yahoo! used human editors to decide what to provide to users. That, however, was time consuming and expensive.
Now, though, the vast increase in information and the easy ways in which people can exploit automated search engines, means that human editing is resurging. Jimbo Wales, the inventor of Wikipedia, has launched a human edited search engine called Search Wikia. Mahalo is another newcomer to search that uses human editors.
However, both systems – and the directory approach from Dmoz – suffer from one thing; they rely on volunteers to edit what’s available. That means what’s delivered as a result listing will not always be up-to-date, nor will you be able to rely on it or trust that a thorough search has been done.
The future for search clearly lies in “gatekeepers” – experts who provide narrow search facilities for specific topics. Want to know the latest on “Internet marketing” for instance? Then you would go to the organisation that uses human editors to search and rank the available pages on that topic and that topic only. These gatekeeping companies will be experts in their own particular field. They will catalogue and list things much more effectively as they will be able to spot the spammers. Their information will become more trusted than search engines and will be more up-to-date and reliable than volunteer editors.
Strange isn’t it? This is exactly how large libraries have always worked. If you want some information on music in a large library, you’d ask the music librarian. But if you wanted science information, you’d be pointed to another member of staff with expertise in that area. Once again, the Internet returns to what has been happening in the offline world for centuries. It will not be long before “googling” for something will be a distant memory, just like Yahoo’s human edited directory has faded from our minds. Bye bye Google.