Thursday, 23 June 2016 03:24

The Future Of Search Is Answering A Question, and Startups Have Answered


Nearly a year ago, Google expanded their search engine to begin instantly answering questions, such as the death of a celebrity or a math problem. The result was a reaction to the true nature of search; nobody was writing something into Google without actively seeking an answer.

That answer may be finding a particular piece or a few different pieces of content, or simply a particular website, but you are asking the question; "where is this thing I want?" The instant responsiveness of Google and its ability to query an entire database of the Internet has made other sites take notice.

That's why sites like Periscope, Medium, Vevo and Hacker News have adopted Algolia's hosted cloud search platform, an API that brings Google's instant to near-instant search capabilities to their sites. The result is that their content is immediately searchable and relevant, so that if a user makes a complex query and/or a typo, they will still receive results that make sense for what they're looking for. "By leveraging the trove of internal data that websites or mobile apps have, we are helping them to deliver an experience that is even deeper and more personalized than what Google does for web searches," said Nicolas Dessaigne, CEO of Algolia. "Our goal is to make search seamless, nearly invisible.

Today we can deliver relevant results at the first keystroke. In the future, all results will be personalized and delivered before the question is even completely formulated." This is an important approach for businesses large and small to take, and closes in on AI; Algolia's technology works to not just index and search your data, but also make sure that it produces the right answer to a query.

This is an interesting comparison to the ever-growing world of the Internet of Things, led by Amazon's Echo. Users, despite their accents, stuttering or other things that make a question "imperfect" are still able to get an answer. Algolia, their competitor Elastic and Google all recognize this, with Algolia in particular even advertising directly on their website that you should try a test search with a typo, to show how the platform can answer the question regardless. Google will even go as far as to suggest what you may be trying to type, if not bringing you the exact answer despite your mistake.

As Quartz's Leo Mirani said, there are over 10 trillion web pages to index, including but not limited to the masses of social media services providing terabytes if not petabytes of information into said stream. This is the same problem that many startups and companies will begin to find, both from the angle of big data overload and the expectations of the user.

The instantaneous nature of search may make users unlikely to even browse the same way, as we move away from the original web's exploratory nature to people visiting each website with a purpose. In the same Quartz article, Mirani speaks to author Stefan Weitz, who wrote the book Search: How The Data Explosion Makes Us Faster, where Weitz argues that search must mature to mirror human nature, and be ready to answer a query at speed.

 "We must think of search as the omniscient watcher in the sky, aware of everything this happening on the ground below," said Weitz. "For this to happen, search itself needs to be deconstructed into its component tasks: indexing and understanding the world and everything in it; reading senses, so search systems can see and hear (and eventually smell and touch!) and interact with us in more natural ways; and communicating with us humans in contextually appropriate ways, whether that's in text, in speech, or simply by talking to other machines on our behalf to make things happen in the real world."

To Algolia's Dessaigne, this approach is a natural course. "Personalization of results is also going to be an important trend for websites and apps, particularly among big retailers and media websites. Along this progression, voice interfaces are going to gain traction. We are still far from truly conversational interfaces, but we'll eventually get there."

While we all dream of a day when we can have an answer as we speak, or even think of the question, we are far away from it. Nevertheless, startups are clearly ready to make the jump for us. We're in a world that's far from the days when having a search bar was a quirky feature; users have a question and to succeed in business, you'll need to have an answer.


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