SF 106Miles Meeting

Last night was the SF version of the 106Miles meeting. The host for this month was Dave Winer and he gave an interesting talk. He intentionally didn’t prepare a presentation, but just let the discussion flow where it would, letting questions from the crowd direct him.

Some highlights:

    Google’s search isn’t getting any better
    All us young’uns have it easy developing web based products
    Built to flip isn’t all that bad
    Someone needs to make p2p webcasting
    Bittorrents time has come

I thought his discussion of Google not getting any better was interesting, but I wonder if it’s a failure on Google’s part to market their improvements. They’re incredibly secretive about their special sauce for search. Combine that with a number of blind taste test type studies coming out showing the big search engines are reaching parity in terms of quality of results.

Could part of the problem be that we’ve trained users to only enter an average of 1.5 words per search query? This leads to the problem with ambiguity of meaning, search for caterpillar, do you mean insects or heavy machinery?. Dave asked the question “why can’t I search for ‘the game playing at berkeley’ and find out what was going on over there tonight”. Most people have been trained not to formulate their search that way.

Currently what most search engines are used for is Keyword Information Retrieval Systems. They aren’t really knowledge bases capable of answering questions, that would require the search engine to remove any ambiguity in the query. Google has been adding in some features along these lines, like being able to ask “how many quarts in a gallon“. This query returns a definitive answer, however these little features are very hit or miss, Google doesn’t really have a list of what you can ask for and get an answer instead of search results. You just get a little surprise if you stumble on one that works.

The problem again is what if you were looking for a book with the title “How many quarts in a gallon”, search ambiguity because you wouldn’t get what you were expecting. It would seem that the next step is that the search engine needs to be able to obtain a certain level of understanding of the world so that it can formulate questions to further refine the query and get to a definitive answer. Not an easy problem to solve. Maybe this is the killer that Dave thought someone would come up with and knock Google off their throne.