At the recent Wharton Technology Conference in Philadelphia representatives from Google, Yahoo and MSN Search discussed the future of search technologies.
The big search engine companies have different ideas on how search engines will change over the next few years.
MSN Search wants to focus on the user interface
Saleel Sathe, the representative of MSN Search, claimed that the user interfaces of search engines required significant changes:
"Search engines have shot themselves in the foot by providing a search box, where users provide relatively little information [...]
The average search query is 2.3 words... but if you asked a librarian for information you would not just give them 2.3 words -- you would give them the opportunity to give you the rich detailed answer you want."
Google thinks that technology is more important
Google's representative Matthew Glotzbach argued that the computers should be able to find out what people want:
"In the distant future we will not be able to get you to take more action, because we will get close enough with what you give us. A lot of emphasis will continue on doing that in the background — getting the technology to figure out [what you want] [...]
Larry Page [the co-founder] of Google often says, 'the perfect search engine would understand exactly what you mean and give back exactly what you want'."
Yahoo bets on social search technologies
Yahoo's Bradley Horowitz proposed that existing web search should be replaced with social search:
"What we think is the next major breakthrough is social search. It basically democratizes the notion of relevance and lets ordinary users decide what's important for themselves and other users."
Each method has its own problems
MSN's approach might be difficult because people are probably not willing to work more to get information. Most searchers want quick results.
Yahoo's social search approach requires the participation of web surfers. The problem is that many people might not be interested to participate and other people might abuse the system to promote their own sites.
Google faces the problem that is is difficult to find out what a web surfer actually wants when he provides only limited information. This problem could be mastered by saving the search history of web surfers etc. but that leads to other (privacy) problems.
These are interesting times for search. Only time will tell what impact future changes will have on your business. Until then, you should try to get best results with the current search engine situation.