Search Tangles

The Future of Search: This Time It's Personal

Illustration: Joe Zeff
The next stage of search is focused on you and your desktop. Microsoft is leading the charge with new technology that will let you scour your e-mail, networked PCs, or even an external hard drive to find that digital needle in an ever-growing data haystack. MSN says desktop search will be available long before Microsoft's 2006 release of its next version of Windows, code-named Longhorn, which is expected to include advanced search capabilities.

Yahoo says it is considering similar desktop search technology, but declined to provide details. Google was in a quiet period leading up to its initial public offering; published reports, however, suggest it too is working on desktop search software.

Hints of where things may be headed are online right now. Search for "Chinese food Houston" at Yahoo, for example, and the top results are not links but the names, addresses, and phone numbers of Chinese restaurants close to Houston's geographic center. Yahoo believes searchers prefer immediate answers to links. Over 140 million people have volunteered their personal information to Yahoo, and it plans to use that data to make search more relevant and personal to them, the company says.

MSN, meanwhile, says its upcoming search engine also will focus on offering personalization and delivering answers.

Amazon.com is pushing the search envelope with a trial search engine called A9.com. Launched in early 2004, A9 ties regular Web search results from Google (enhanced with additional details such as names of sites popular with other visitors to the link) to "Search Inside the Book" results from Amazon. It also stores the user's recent A9 search history.

Eurekster, launched earlier this year, combines social networking with personalized search. Results are based on the search preferences and behavior of your Eurekster contacts as well as your own search history. If you choose classical sites when you search for music, they will dominate your results the next time you search for music.

You can perform a search tied to a Eurekster special-interest group--either a public one such as Parents or Organic Gardening, or a private group. Results from these searches will include sites popular among other group members.

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