Improving search by voice, going personal

World's four biggest search engines explain 2010 plans and initiatives to improve their platforms and discuss where industry is heading.
Written by Liau Yun Qing, Contributor on

Google is going by modes and language, and Yahoo is going personal. Baidu searches for dynamic data, and Microsoft seeks to understand user intent.

ZDNet Asia spoke to the four leading global players in search, Google, Yahoo, Baidu and Microsoft--ranked first to fourth, respectively, in ComScore's December 2009 search report--about their strategy and plans for 2010.

Search giant Google led the pack in ComScore's December 2009 search engine ranking, taking in 66.8 percent of the global marketshare.

In an e-mail interview with ZDNet Asia, Derek Callow, head of marketing at Google Southeast Asia, said the search engine focuses on four areas: modes, media, personalization and language.

Last year saw the availability of mobile devices offering users easier search, Internet capabilities and different ways to enter and express queries, such as by voice, natural language, picture and song, said Callow.

"It's clear that while keyword-based searching is incredibly powerful, it's also incredibly limiting," he said, adding that users will continue to see "radical advances in modes of search".

He noted that universal search is an important first step to exploring the "full range of what we can do with rich media", but added that Google has "barely scratched the surface". The search company defines "universal search" to include images, videos, news, books and maps as search results.

Callow said search engines will be better in the future as they begin to understand more about the user. And Google, he said, is looking at two ways to personalize searches: location and social.

Location is relevant to a lot of searches, he explained, where incorporating user location and context will be pivotal in increasing the relevance and ease of search in the future. As for social personalization, he said the algorithmic analysis of a user's social graph to further refine a query or disambiguate, could prove very useful in future.

Google is also looking at language to improve search results. The company is investing in machine translation and wants to provide Web users the ability to communicate in any language, Callow said. If an answer is available online in any language, Google's goal is to enable users to retrieve it and translate it into their native tongue, he said.

While he declined to elaborate on Google's future products and features, Callow shared the development of Caffeine, a new system the company is currently working on, to crawl and index Web content. He noted that the new architecture is not a finished product and Google is soliciting help from Web developers in the testing phase.

Through Caffeine, the search company is aiming to improve its engine's indexing size, indexing speed, accuracy, comprehensiveness, among others, he added.

Yahoo goes personal
Yahoo is looking to align its search capabilities with the company's vision of becoming the center of people's online lives.

In an e-mail interview, Peter Joblin, senior communications manager of Yahoo Southeast Asia, said: "Yahoo brings a more personal relevance to its search product as we want our users to connect to things that matters most to them. In 2010, our users will experience a new search experience, focused on 'You'."

Joblin added that Yahoo focuses on efforts in "structuring the Web" with its SearchMonkey project. First unveiled in November 2008, the initiative encourages the use of descriptive tags on Web pages so Yahoo Search can better understand the content on those pages.

According to Joblin, several thousand Web publishers, developers and users have already benefited from more structured results. "In 2010, Yahoo will extend these efforts and make it easier and more productive to find information, not just blue links," he said.

Late last week, Yahoo's 10-year search deal with Microsoft was approved by the European Commission and is expected to begin deployment soon. Announced in July 2009, the partnership will see Microsoft powering Yahoo search while the latter will be the global representative for both companies' premium search advertisers.

Baidu seeks dynamic data

Ranked third in the ComScore report, Chinese search engine Baidu said it accounted for 77 percent traffic share in China's search market in the third quarter of 2009, citing figures from iResearch.

A company spokesperson told ZDNet Asia that this year, users will be able to see new applications based on Baidu's open search platform, coined Project Aladdin.

Launched in April 2009, the initiative aims to improve search experience "by uncovering useful parts of the hidden Web", according to the company's first quarter of 2009 report. The platform allows Webmasters and developers to "submit data to Baidu in order to generate direct search results for dynamic information". This can include data such as foreign currency exchange rates and flight schedules.

Asked if the Chinese company would be focusing on real-time search like its Western competitors, the spokesperson said Baidu began working on similar initiatives last year.

"In 2010, users will increasingly experience information from news, blogs, forums, [microblogs] and other real-time sources being incorporated in Baidu's Web search and other products," he explained. "The Aladdin platform allows us to leverage real-time user generated contents from our community verticals to be delivered in our search results."

He added that Baidu offers a set of community-based products, including Baidu Postbar, i-Postbar, and Knows. The former two are online forums, while the latter allows users to post and answer questions. The spokesperson said user-generated content on these products are suitable for mobile usage and provide rich amount of real-time content.

Microsoft wants to inform

Armed with its Bing search engine, unveiled in June 2009, Microsoft said it aims to help its search users make more informed decisions in their daily lives.

A Bing spokesperson told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail interview that its search engine has been designed for "purposes beyond ten blue links on a page".

Microsoft will continue to work on turning the Internet's information into actionable knowledge by understanding "the users' intent", said the spokesperson, adding that there is much yet to accomplish. "Bing is a first step on this journey of evolving search into a more refined tool to help users cut through the Internet clutter to make faster, more informed decisions," he said.

During Bing's launch, Microsoft had described the platform as a "decision engine" rather than a search engine, which includes various pre-configured search categories including shopping, healthcare and travel, as well as the company's Virtual Earth mapping system, live flight data, company contact data and weather forecast.

In terms of contextual search, the spokesperson said Bing applies Powerset technology to "provide a unique experience for a large number of reference queries" and aids query processing by enabling Bing to better define the intent of the user.

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