Saturday, August 15, 2009

Is Searching Getting Easier?

There's little doubt that search engines are indispensable when it comes to searching for information online. But is searching easier today than it was a couple years ago?

I'm inclined to say yes.

Search engines are constantly being tweaked (it seems) to improve their performance, or at least their user-friendliness. How well they do at improving the task of finding information is largely a matter of personal opinion, and it depends on what you are searching for as well.

The ultimate problem with searching is that there is so much information to choose from. Search engines will always struggle to keep up with the production of new information. If IBM's prediction is right, and the amount of information produced by 2010 doubles every 11 hours, the engines we know today will never catch up. I imagine engine developers are working on how to stay on top of that kind of exponential growth curve, but it still comes down to this: what you retrieve is only a tiny fraction of the information that's available.

In a world awash with information, we increasingly need help reducing the torrent to a trickle. Largely content to browse the top ten results, we have become information reductionists. It seems harsh to put it that way, but most of the time we opt for easy. Scanning a few results is easy and, much of the time, serves us adequately.

Search engines are designed to serve up manageable results. Innovations like Google Squared and Bing make it relatively easy (though the quality of the information still has to be checked). Smarter engines will (if they don't already) track the things you query and the results you browse better to determine the type of information that interests you. That's intended to makes things easier, but I wonder if that will actually make it harder to find information that challenges you.

Something to think about.

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