Popular speaker and search engine expert, Chris Sherman gave the opening keynote address today to a packed ballroom eager to hear his thoughts on trends in the search engine market. He said that for the first time in years we’re starting to see true differentiation and divergence among the major search engines. Yes, one-upsmanship and me-tooism is continuing, but we’re also seeing each major Web search service push forward in new directions. He then detailed recent interesting developments at Ask, Google, Yahoo!, and MSN.
I was happy to hear his thoughts on Ask, which has really upgraded its search technology. I had noticed improvements but he said it’s now as good if not better than Google. I must remember to try it more frequently.
I asked Chris after his presentation, why he hadn’t discussed some of the smaller search engines, like Vivisimo (Clusty) or Exalead. (Exalead has particular appeal for experienced searchers, who like its features that were offered by the former AltaVista engine, including Boolean queries, proximity, etc.) And, what about clustering, I asked. While some of these engines are doing interesting things, he said, they won’t be able to counter the mindshare of players like Google. We aren’t likely to see any new major engines emerge but he expects to see some successes in vertical search, especially in the medical area. He particularly likes Healthline. Most general users of Web search engines prefer simplicity so he doesn’t think that clustering of search results will have an impact on Google and the 3 other major engines. He feels that we’ll see less use of text in search refinement and more use of sliders and other visual controls, such as Yahoo! uses in Mindset.
Chris also spent some time in his presentation talking about the various controversies that Google is embroiled in, especially with its book digitization projects. He feels that Google is doing “all the right things” in protecting content adequately. “Google is a magnet for lawsuits,” he commented. Having visited the Googleplex he also feels that Google is being very careful about network security. Not all folks would agree with him on both these issues. He ended his talk by noting that threats to privacy and individual liberties are subtly increasing in the U.S. while things are gradually improving in China.