The New Search Wars

By | August 4, 2004

Search is getting big again. Will it work this time around?

Programs that search your hard drive have been around for a while, but few of them seem to last. There was Magellan, askSam (OK, still around, sort of), Altavista’s Desktop Search, dtSearch (still going strong) and Enfish (still around, barely breathing). That was in the 1990s. But it’s only recently we’ve seen folk get really excited about the space again: There’s X1, Tukaroo (bought out pre-launch by Ask Jeeves), HotBot Search, and now something called blinkx (thanks, Marjolein, for pointing it out.)

Blinkx was officially launched last month as “a free new search tool that thinks and links for you, eliminates the need for keywords or complex search methods, easily finding the information you seek whether it is on the Web, in the news or buried deep within files on your PC.” In other words, pretty much what the other guys do. I haven’t looked too closely at it, but the main idea, as co-founder Kathy Rittweger puts it, is easy search without the logistics: “By eliminating the mechanics of search, such as keywords or sorting through dozens of unqualified results, we drive users more quickly to their goal: finding something, even if they didn’t know it was there!”

That’s good, and I would have said before that that was the way to go, but nowadays I’m not so sure. I think that as disk space grows and people’s hard drives become more complex, different users need different grades of configurability. With most of these new search engines pitching to the ‘lite user’ there’s a danger the more serious document hunter gets left behind. It’s actually a simple calculation: Are you aiming at the casual user who is happy to stumble across a few documents they didn’t know they still had, or are you aiming at the user that needs to find all the documents relevant to their search?

Anyway, it’s good to see folk finally seeing this space for what it is: Horribly underserviced, full of missed opportunities and millions of folk lost on their own hard drives. With Google, Microsoft and others about to enter the fray, here’s hoping that we get something really good out of it.

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