Changing the Way People Search
Now that Google is a verb, it would seem the story of search has been written, published and put on the shelf. But don’t put that book away just yet. Dozens of start-ups are working hard to re-write it, both with Google’s help and without it.
Much of the new technology in search focuses on the flood of multimedia content that Google’s underlying technology doesn’t address. Search engines for video, audio and even three-dimensional still images are coming to market and changing the way users think about search. One search start-up has optimized its engine for mobile users, and opened a new platform for content providers to make their sites more accessible by mobile users, too. Others are trying to improve the search experience for online shoppers.
At DEMO 2006 in February, a conference showcasing new technologies and companies, 10 of the 69 start-ups on stage had developed new concepts in search. At DEMOFall seven months later, half a dozen more unveiled search plans.
What this means for small business
As companies change the way that people can search the Web, small and mid-size businesses need to keep abreast of the new techniques. Searching the Web is one of the key ways that potential customers find companies with which they want to do business in the 21st Century. If new types of search technologies take off, businesses may need to reassess how they describe their products online, how their websites optimize search and/or advertise on search engines and what type of multimedia content they feature on the Web.
Start-up Transparensee, based in New York City, is designed to improve search results by understanding the meaning of data fields in structured data (as opposed to Google’s emphasis on random, unstructured data). Using this kind of “fuzzy” logic, Transparensee allows users to weight various parameters; if they say they’re looking for a 10X optical zoom camera with 5 megapixels of resolution, they’ll get to see the 12X cameras with 6 megapixel resolution if those models are in their price range.
In multimedia search, Pluggd, of Seattle, Wash., offers HearHere, a search service that lets podcast listeners avoid irrelevant content by taking them straight to the segment of an audio or video feed that relates to their search request. Nexidia, of Altanta, recently introduced a “developer edition” to let content sites add audio indexing similar to HearHere’s search. The company is already well established in audio analysis for enterprise and government needs, such as analyzing call center conversations and finding interesting segments of surveillance recordings. Sonic Foundry Sonic Foundry, of Madison, Wis., also provides audio search through Mediasite.com, its “rich media” database of expert lectures and presentations.
“We believe search lies at the heart of efficient, Web-based communication,” says Sonic Foundry CEO Rimas Buinevicius. “Finding a specific document or phrase has become a necessary part of working and learning.”
That may also influence the type of content that companies may want to feature on their websites in order to attract traffic and potential customers.
Reaching mobile customers
Search also has become an important part of the mobile experience. Rather than paying $1 to $1.50 per 411 call, mobile users are trying out free mobile text services. Start-up 4INFO, of Palo Alto, Calif., has taken its mobile text-message search service a step beyond those offered by Google and Yahoo; the company recently debuted an open development platform that lets any content provider create 4INFO-searchable content. Revenues from advertising embedded in the search results are shared between 4INFO and the content provider.
Potential customers also are finding easier paths through the search thicket to the products they want. FatLens, of Mountain View, Calif., which recently rolled out an event search site that sells tickets, also has created a site, TheFind.com, which does comparison shopping searches without relying on advertising dollars to influence the order of the results. According to Jupiter Media Metrix, 82 percent of online shoppers use search sites to find what they want, but 85 percent of them are dissatisfied with the experience. If sites like TheFind.com ease their pain, small companies should be able to compete with major retailers to sell their products on an equal footing.