Computers Electronics and Technology

Why search is no longer all about Google

Once upon a time, Google was the beginning and end of life online.

If you could not find what you wanted by typing a few words into that familiar search box and hitting return, then it may as well not exist.

Google was the web.

“For a long time search was all about the bag of words,” said Stephen Emmott, an expert in search engines at consultants Gartner.

Google prospered because it had a bigger bag of words than anyone else, and it was able to pluck what you wanted out of its bag quicker than anyone else.

It gave fast, accurate access to the website, blog or Wikipedia page people sought.

In those days searching, as a computer operation, was quite straightforward, said Mr Emmott.

The sheer size of the web meant there was, and still is, a lot of information to index but it tended to stay in the same place. Doing a good job involved analysing the words on the web pages and logging how many other sites saw that page as definitive.

Now, said Mr Emmott, searching has got a lot more complicated thanks to our increasingly complicated online and business lives.

Fast response

Instead of just looking up web pages, modern life can include finding a date or a soul mate, scoring a second-hand bargain in an auction, calling up instant taxi services or streaming more movies than you could watch in a lifetime of utter sloth.

“One way or another if you use applications throughout the day you will be touching a lot of different search engines and services,” he said.

These days, most of those searches will not involve Google technology. Google declined to comment.

Instead, there are new pretenders to the search crown such as Elastic and Solr.

Searching in the old days was about typing text. No so today. Searching can involve swiping right, moving a map with your fingers or talking to an app, said Shay Banon, founder of Elastic, which makes the open source search technology used by the likes of Tinder, eBay, Uber, Lyft and Netflix.

Behind the search box, the mechanics of finding the right answer are very different, he said.

For instance, on Tinder when you swipe right on a profile, that is a search in that it involves matching data against a constantly shifting set of parameters. It’s just not a search as Google classically defined it.

Uber and Lyft also have to match against location as well as the preferences of both their drivers and riders. Similarly, Netflix and eBay do a lot of number crunching to answer queries and make suggestions for their massive user populations.

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