CNN Money is reporting that fresh off its vindication for antitrust violations, Google is already looking ahead to how it can leverage its newfound clout. “Search 2.0” is what they are calling it and the goal is to bring users even more precision. The “direct answer” remains as elusive and an almost as mythological as the Holy Grail itself. Is it possible? The folks at Google seem to think so. And, it so, what does it mean for those of us who make a career out of sifting haystacks to find needles?
We have been talking a lot lately in my workplace about the ability of computerized searches to deliver exactly what the enduser wants. There always seems to be this notion that a search engine can be somehow configured to meet the minds and intentions of its users. Yet for all of our Boolean logic, terms and connections, filters, and word wheels, we seem to always fall short. It is frustrating to some and frightening to others. If computers could simpy, efficiently, and precisely answer a user’s questions, what need would there be for librarians and information professionals?
My experience has taught me two things. First and foremost, there will never be a true meeting of the minds between man and machine. Even the best engines and algorithms will only be as good as the people who program them. Centuries of research experience should make it quite clear that even people have a hard time knowing exactly what other people want. How will our cyber-creations do this if we cannot prepare them for it? And second, serendipty cannot be recreated in a database, search string, or cloud. It is when two minds meet and there is a back and forth of expectations, possibilities, and processes that most thorough answers are found. Let’s face it, most of the time even the asker is not sure of exactly for what she or he is looking! We can’t explain our needs to one another, let alone expect to be able to explain them to computers. The intellectual wrestling match that follows a request is as vital to the success of the research process as the answer itself.
Google is pushing for the day when we can converse with a search engine. I think that is exciting and that it will have its utility. But it will also have its drawbacks. For most, it will be a difficult and seemingly one-sided conversation. We are going to need smart people who know how to speak the right language to make the discussion meaningful. That is where we, my friends, come in,
Bring it on, Google. We are ready to talk.