Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Rapid change, rapid responses

Allow me to digress for a moment from our usual theme of search and sensemaking in order to make a bigger, probably more important point.  

As we've seen over the past year, Google (and Bing) have made many changes to their interfaces, user-facing capabilities, underlying index and results ranking.  The most visible changes were to Bing's image search interface (continuously scrolling results) and Google's Instant Search ("search results come back as quickly as you type"). But many, many changes get made every week--some obvious, some pretty subtle.  

The biggest news story in many ways was the "DecorMyEyes" story which broke in the New York Times in late November.  Good investigative journalism on the part of the Times revealed a fairly abusive reseller who was taking advantage of his obnoxious behavior (which generated a large number of web posts linking to his site) to boost his position in searches for his product.  

But more interestingly (for us on SearchResearch), Google fixed this problem within just a few days by a clever ranking algorithm tweak. As described by Amit Singhal on the Official Google Blog, the solution is more than just sentiment analysis, but involves detecting overall terrible user experiences on the part of purchasers and then using that information to change the rank position of results of sellers.  

The implication of all these changes--which are ongoing and continuous--is that web search is a dynamic beast.  What you get from a search today might not be what you get tomorrow.  

In other words, web search isn't anything like a normal "reference search" from the days of yore.  Not so long ago, reference materials stayed pretty constant, or at least changed slowly enough that the book / journal publishing cycle was rapid enough to stay up with the changes.  

Now, however, things change rapidly.  Not only does information accelerate (a point made masterfully by James Glecik in his book Faster: the acceleration of just about everything), but aggregations of information are constantly bubbling, as are the tools by which you access the information stew.  

Point:  Stay in touch with the changes going on.  For the most part things-will-just-work.  But when they stop working, you'll want to know how and why, especially if you're trying to make sense of a complex world.  

Keep searching.  

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