Magazine article Information Today

Search: The Last Frontier

Magazine article Information Today

Search: The Last Frontier

Article excerpt

A collection of 17 sessions, two keynotes, and a wrap-up panel was the winning formula for the 14th annual Search Engine Meeting, "where search engine developers, academics and corporate professionals learn from each other."

The 2-day conference, sponsored by Infonortics Ltd., attracted nearly 80 attendees from 17 states and nine countries, April 27-28 at Boston's Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel, to explore the latest developments in search.

Last year, the buzz revolved around XML, visualization, and federated enterprise search. This year, semantic search took top billing, built on the innovations from years past.

Attendance numbers were down compared to last year, according to Harry Collier, company founder and managing director. "There is a solid corpus, particularly the Massachusetts people who come almost every year," he says. This year, as with many other conferences, travel expenses triggered lower turnouts of attendees from the West Coast, Europe, Asia, Korea, and India, he says.

Conference topics have naturally changed over the years. "In the old days, it was all about 'my search engine searches 3 million documents,' and 'my search engine searches 5 million documents.' ... It was all about quantity in the old days," Collier says. "The subjects as you can see have evolved into e-discovery, enriched discovery, complex searches of multifaceted unstructured data. That's where the action is."

Drivers of Tomorrow's Information

Microsoft's Bjorn Olstad started the opening keynote with a video exploring how search is likely to be integrated into our daily lives in the not-so-distant future. The video depicts the natural progression of search as it becomes accessible at a user's fingertips. Search technology is integrated in surfaces that become a medium to touch, discover, and share information via clear screens and tabletops to portable devices that can load data to be displayed as needed (think boarding passes or maps). This "pervasive enablement of information-driven user experiences" welcomes the emergence of a new environment where search is always just a touch away.

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As search is transformed, it moves from a technology based on content to that based on the user, blending natural user interfaces, social computing, and search. The emphasis is all on the user experience.

"Search moves to becoming the application," says Olstad. Users tap into a combination of text, structured data, and rich media, while information is consolidated and funneled to them from their home base, cloud computing, and on-premise repositories. The goal is to bring clarity to the search-and-retrieval process, he says.

Why Semantic Search?

Since searchers have begun wading through the quagmire of information, their needs have changed and so have their tolerance levels. There are many times when page-ranking results just don't produce what users are searching for on the web. Dmitri Soubbotin from Semantic Engines elaborated on three reasons users need semantic search. First, he says users deal with insufficient relevance of traditional search results; users just spend too much time searching for information but not always finding what they want. Second, users are pressed for time and have short attention spans; users want relevant information retrieved quickly. Third, most users only look at the first page of the results and don't even peek at the useful sources beyond. Far too many users say they will "settle for what I have here," he says.

But what's really under the hood? Instead of using ranking algorithms as Google does to try to predict relevancy for the user, semantic search uses the science of the meanings in language to produce point-on results. Natural language processing, linguistics, and text mining can be matched against an ontology that works especially well for verticals. Homogeneous content yields better results; there's just "less noise" and less disambiguation for users to deal with. …

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