Posted May 20, 2009 10:29 am by with 19 comments

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You’ve heard if the expression "If it’s not broken, don’t fix it," right?

Apparently the search engines haven’t.

The "ten blue links" that have served the search engines well for over a decade could be going the way of the dodo and I can’t help wonder just how much of this is driven by the desire for innovation rather than the actual need for it.

Last time I searched, I was pretty happy with the simplicity of the search results page. It was familiar, it was accurate, and aside from perhaps needing a few minor tweaks, did exactly what I needed it to do. Well, it appears the search engines are in a hurry to see who can break search the most and then piece it back together as something completely different.

Wolfram Alpha may be the ringleader, but reports this week show just how desperate Yahoo and Microsoft are to re-invent the wheel search engine.

Wolfram Alpha is a "computational knowledge engine," Yahoo wants to "move from a Web of pages to a Web of objects" and Microsoft is pinning its hopes on Kumo, Bing, Beg, Plead, or whatever their nom de jour is these days. Even Google has said that it has a lot of work left to do in search.

The next 6 months will see more innovation in search than we’ve seen in the past 6 years, but while the battle cry might be for "The End of the 10 Blue Links," I can’t help but wonder if we’ve lost sight of what helped Google grab a 70%+ market share in the first place–ten simple links, on a clean white page.

What do you think about search today? Does it need fixing or not?

  • People like you continuing to include WolframAlpha in a list of search engines only serve to continue the confusion around the system. As you rightly say, it is a computational knowledge engine. It calculates stuff for you. It does not set out to find information, but to represent it and recalculate it. Using it as an example of how search is going wrong is wrong: if I want to find a short simple fact or some figures, I'll go to WA; if I want to find a company web page, or a site about a particular topic, I'll go to google. Different tasks, different tools.

    • I'm not using WA as an example of “how search is going wrong” but as the catalyst for what appears to be a shift towards presenting structured data by the search engines. πŸ™‚

  • It's like the evolution of msdos to windows. Both have their reasons for being and both appeal to different types of people, so they don't have to mutually exclusive.

  • I think wagons worked fine, but clearly automobiles were better. Just because you arrive at a good solution doesn't necessarily mean a better solution isn't possible, and you never know that unless you innovate. Just my $0.02.

    • Thanks for adding your .02. πŸ™‚

      Of course, you are right, we should never stop innovating, but some things don't ever really get better = sliced bread, fire, wheel. πŸ˜‰

      • The question then becomes, is search one of those things that can't be improved? Since we can't yet think and get exactly the information we want without delay or refinement, I'd say no. πŸ˜‰

  • One perspective is that if companies always waited for consumers to know what it is they wanted, there'd be a lot less innovation. We consumers are not as smart as we like to think we are and only after something useful is thrust upon us do we wonder how we lived without it.

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  • FrankReed

    I am working on a new and improved fire that I think the market place will really appreciate.

  • New Fire, maybe not, but can you say, Duraflame.

    Wheat vs. White.

    We tend to resist change, but often once we see that it is better, we embrace it. Yes, I like the 10 blue links, but is there a way to better display it and offer more than 10? Or make those ten more appealing.

  • I guess I like searching the way I am use to it, I see no need for any change — but that is just me. I suppose if they change it up I will get use to the new and “improved” way. I don't want to bash innovation or anything because I like sliced bread as much as I like the old full unsliced loaf. What ever, it isn't like they are going to come ask me for my opinion so what ever will be — will be.

  • Michael Heavener

    They're risking jeopardizing people like my wife who don't give a rip what's under the hood as long as they get results from their searches. These people do NOT like surprises or changes. And they are exceptionally vocal and tend to be brand-hoppers (i.e. extremely disloyal when displeased).

    I can say for sure that if my wife sees anything different than what she's had before (1) she'll chew my ear off; (2) she'll tell several hundred other people how awful it is; (3) she'll start bouncing complaints against anyone she sees (including advertisers); and (d) she'll quit using the site that offended her.

    I guarantee there are several million people just like her who constitute a large margin of purchasers and who have no moral dilemma about severing relations with companies that irk them.

    Google might need to be mindful that technology for technology's sake doesn't drive the Internet no matter how much they think — technology to support commerce does. Break any part of the motor, and the car dies. Too many dead cars start littering the roads and Congress steps in to fix things.

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  • Tom

    there is always room for improvement, bring on semantic search. I do like the direction search is going as long as they keep it simple.

  • Progress can often seem as a step back in someways but there are exciting times ahead in search. I've been reading a lot more about the Semantic Web and how that will affect SEs and how they work… interesting times.

    Personally, I agree with you that I started using Google for the sheer simplicity of it, but everytime they add new features, I love them! Bring on the future, I say!

  • It seems to me that change is happening for the sake of change. Video is searchable in the main index why exactly? Google set out to offer clean easy results and has done so for years, each step taken of late seems to be one step closer to the edge of the cliff in my humble opinion.

  • I don't know if search needs to be fixed, but unless you're number 1 in your market, it can't hurt to shake things up a little bit and see where it gets you.

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  • Rosa

    I think users see internet technology as an ever changing thing. They may resist change but still expect it. Also I think that ultimately Google will just replicate the technology that proves itself and continue to dominate the market. Change will seem less drastic when it comes from a familiar site. This video has more about the 3 engines (Kumo, Google, Wolfram Alpha) :