Move Search 2.0 to the Top of the Corporate Agenda

Simon Bain
by Simon Bain 21 May, 2013

We all misplace keys, phones, wallets, etc. Generally, when you lose something, it is only when you need it again that you notice its disappearance. Then, confusion, panic or fear may set in. You search high and low, retrace old steps and rack your brain trying to apply sensible logic to the situation, but often search in the most irrational of places. Did I leave my phone in the refrigerator?

All sorts of crazy scenarios go through your head, and then, when you've almost lost all hope - success - your keys turn up in the front door. Relief floods over you, bringing a wave of calm and normalcy back into your world.

There is nothing more satisfying than basking in the glory of finding something you lost. What happens when you next lose or can't find your keys? Panic starts to set in, then your brain clicks into gear and remembers. Instead of going through all the emotions as before, you trace the steps back based on previous experiences and presto, no need for panic, you're filled with a sense of calm having found the lost item. Why is this? Because as humans, we learn.

In fact if you think about it our entire life is dictated by searching, because without it we would not be 'doing' as most searches invariably lead to some sort of action.

But what happens if you substitute something tangible like your keys or wallet, for a document you saved on your computer?

We've all been there. You open up a word processor app, after searching for the file on the desktop. You then search for the template to use or the toolbar to click on to, or the file open button. All second nature, but what happens when we can't find the document?

As with the keys and wallets, you go through the search and retrieval processes, until the familiar sensation of reward and relief comes over you when you eventually find it.

Now if this was to happen again, as mentioned with something tangible, you wouldn't necessarily go through the various processes until you locate the lost item. You've learned your lesson.

However, with computer search applications that is not the case. Unlike the human brain, search applications do not have the capability to learn, but this doesn't mean we can't put processes into place to make search much more friendly and intuitive.

A revolution in thinking is here when it comes to search bringing Search 2.0.

Let's take a moment to look at the concept of Advanced Search, which gives the participant a more tailor-made set of results against a request. In practice, this sounds great but we all know that the reality is instead of getting 6,000,000 results you might only get 2,678,988 - not exactly helpful. Imagine however, if a web search only found one result to every query instead of 6,000,000 or 2,678,988, and each answer was exactly what you needed.

That is the potential that semantic search technology holds. Is this a nirvana? A mirage? Or is it something we really need to address in the smart device era where users will simply not tolerate having to search through files, folders, emails and the like while they are on the move.

The drive for mobility is creating a revolution in search. However, we need to be clear that this revolution not only simplifies the search process, it must do so securely.

Online search engines familiar to the average consumer typically deploy so-called Boolean search techniques, in which the key words or phrases the user is looking for must be present in the underlying commands searched for. In Boolean search, the number of results delivered will therefore correspond to the number of instances a particular phrase occurs in the underlying data - in this case the World Wide Web.

This is why the name of a popular celebrity such as Lady Gaga retrieves 456,000,000 results when a more obscure example will achieve significantly fewer. The user has to determine which is the best answer to his query. I would call this self-search or self-filtering. When you are on the go this is simply not an option.

Semantic search technology, on the other hand, retrieves answers based not on specific words or phrases, but on the overall relevance to the query. It seeks to improve search accuracy by understanding intent and the contextual meaning of terms as they appear in the searchable database, whether on the Web or within a closed system, to generate more relevant results.

As developers, we need to put this into practice, otherwise users will remain frustrated and searching will continue to be a huge pain-point. Map against this the need for a secure search application to see the imperative of delivering a 2.0 solution.

The benefit for users is clear: accurate information at one's fingertips as needed either at the desktop, or as is increasingly the case, via smart devices securely and safely while on the move.

Businesses embracing this new search culture will benefit from having improved productivity, more effective communication and greater flexibility for employees.

There is no doubt that we are now seeing a radical change in the way people work, communicate, interact and by definition, search for information. Smart device penetration is set to continue unabated meaning that relevant, semantic search has to go mobile as well.

Now these might only be seen as baby steps, but they are steps in the right direction. The key to success is giving back the user those feelings of satisfaction and relief when finding something that was lost. The current processes are in place do provide this, but as technologists we should be striving to make searching that little bit easier.

About the Author: Simon Bain is the company founder, CTO and chief architect of Simplexo Ltd's software solutions.