Search is changing quick. Facebook search has never worked at all, and is still broken. Twitter is useful to get a real time glance on a subject, and has launched some new advertising services which apparently include keyword bidding. Pinterest is useful to see really cool stuff from the theme of your search query. Google has changed a lot and it is still tbd whether this will enrich or inhibit their search experience. Youtube is the second biggest search engine in the world yet their search results looks dated and irrelevant, nothing is innovative or customized. I would expect Google to make some serious improvements to YouTube search very soon, and they will likely be in line with their Google+ strategy of uniting all Google properties. DuckDuckGo is a sleeper that I have been keeping my eye on. Their technology is great and I think has a lot of promise going forward. I threw in Yahoo just for good measure. Let's just say I'm not convinced they know what the term UI/UX means. Ask and Bing are chugging along but they are aiming at the wrong target. Blekko is good but boring.
Searching for Search
Search is at the heart of the web. At a fundamental level, the internet opens information of all kinds to everyone in the world, so it follows that search utilities are important for helping the end user find what they want. Google defined our modern paradigm and I believe there will always be place for them. But I'm also happy to see new paradigms emerge as they necessarily should because the old school website model itself is evolving into real-time and social discourse. Some new models are better than others. Here is what the current landscape looks like. Please note that all images below are screenshots taken above the fold.
Facebook search has always been a sensitive subject to me. I've been a member since 2005 and spend so much time on the network, I was hoping they would have a decent search and discovery engine by now. Alas Facebook search is still broken, in fact it was never working in the first place. Facebook probably knows more about me than Google, yet the search results for "BMW" are not actionable at all. The best they give me is the BMW fan page. That's nice, but what about the content behind the BMW based conversations that I know friends of mine are having? What about local search results? Facebook relies heavily on the News Feed as a vehicle of discovery. Yet it came out recently that only about 17% of your friends are exposed to any one of your posts. This means that a significant amount of information (and possible discourse) is lost, and as far as I can tell it's not being recovered with Facebook search.
Twitter Search is definitely one of the most underrated web utilities today. In terms of getting a real time snapshot of a subject you really can't beat it. That said, it really is just a raw dump of data that match your search keyword so much of it might not be relevant to the individual user. But that's okay, by the very nature of Twitter the "what" usually takes precedence over the "who". Twitter users -- the non super user variety -- have become commoditized in a sense. There is no limit to the people who are having public discussions about BMW. What's important to the user query the is the quality and content of the tweet, not necessarily who said it (assuming you do not know them).
Another noteworthy update is the multimedia search results at the left. They are presented clearly and simply. The end user is presented with choices and she will make click decisions based on the what is displayed, not who it came from, because user names are not displayed. What is particularly interesting to me is the sponsored Audi tweet at the top of the search results. This seems like a nifty SEM-like advertising service, and this will be huge. I've known for a while that Audi's marketing team is crafty, and this is no exception. When I search for a car that I love I see a similar make, and a tweet showcasing their hottest road car nonetheless. Props to Audi.
The new kid on the block is getting some serious attention, Amazon has even integrated Pinterest buttons on their product pages. I would agree with Brycewhen he suggests that Pinterest is leading the charge in disrupting the original search paradigm altogether. But their traditional search functions are also interesting. What I see when I look at this "BMW" search result is the coolest and newest content in the category. Intuitively this makes sense, people are not going to Pin [are we cool with calling it a "Pin" yet?] things that are not compelling, interesting, or new. Perhaps it's not useful for most brands, but for any company rolling out super cool products and services I would say Pinterest is a big and untapped opportunity.
I also really enjoy the simplicity Pinterest uses in their URL syntax. You don't get the long random strings of tracking codes Google and the other search engines append to track everything. Even though I'm sure they are, I don't get the sense they are watching me with a magnifying glass, running multivariate tests, and tracking my every click.
I'm going to skip Google.com search because is there is already plenty of literature on the updates of their algorithms and UI. But I did have a pleasant Google discovery in my research though that I should share. Just Google search the keyword "search".
Considering it's parent company defined our modern search paradigm, the YouTube search results are very unimpressive. YouTube.com is the second biggest search engine in the world yet I see so many missed opportunities from (Google's perspective) to make the results more personal, relevant, and compelling. Hey Google, I know you're tracking my search and browsing history. And I know you are doing it for people I am connected to (via Google +), yet all I see are untargeted advertisements and random BMW videos. WTF mate? How about you show me trending BMW videos, or videos that my connections may have watched? There is no way Google is not thinking about this so I'm expecting a massive overhaul and rollout to the YouTube search results very soon. It is also possible Google just may rollout Search Plus Your World features and functions into YouTube. Will be interesting to watch.
This is a search engine that has been quietly growing and I've been watching for a while. I'm okay with rooting for the little guy when the little guy is actually doing stuff better, and I think this may be the case with Duck Duck Go. Their simple and clean search result interface reminds me of something I can't quite put my finger on…oh yeah I remember now…it looks like Google 10 years ago. Maybe the classic UI/UX best practices never die, or maybe they have a new secret sauce. Either way I think their product is impressive. It gives me relevant web results quickly and directly.
I was going to group Yahoo together with Ask and Bing, but given all the recent hubbub over Yahoo, and their impressively bad search results, I decided it's best to give Yahoo a dedicated writeup. Their verdict? The Yahoo search result is a complete miss. Keep in mind, this screenshot was taken above the fold only, but only one result on the page is organic, the rest are paid ads. Fortunately Yahoo tried to zero in on my location and give me a local result. The only problem with that is they gave me results for Los Angeles, and I'm writing this in San Francisco. Try again, Yahoo.
Judging on the interface alone, they are trying to play Google's game. But they are loosing because you can't beat Google at their own game. They are not doing that bad of a job, they are just not doing it nearly as well as Google and (love it or hate it) they don't offer any of the extra fixtures Google (i.e Google+) does. The novelty of asking an actual question in English to Ask has also worn off, you can do it in Google now and get results that are just as good. Plus there are already two other much better resources for asking questions - Quora and Stack Exchange.
Thanks to Mike Cane for reminding me about Blekko, it has grown significanlysince last time I checked so it definitely deserves discussion. While I really appreciate the clutter free experience, it's so simple that it's almost boring. It gets relevant information to me quickly but the experience itself is missing something. The results are solid, but the experience seems like a blank canvas ready to be painted on. Not a bad place to for a budding search engine to be. A big concern I have though is the fifth result which is a Blekko.com property. I don't know what they are trying to do here this probably does not belong on page 1 search results. You can also narrow serach results according to cateogry by appending a "/" on the end of your query, i.e. "bmw /news". I really like this feature but it seems too techy for mass appeal.
Overall I'm anticipating the rate of which these search engines change to accelerate, not slow down, because that's the lifeblood of the tech world we have today. Social Search is also a big priority for me and I have not seen any killer solutions yet, probably because the APIs of the various social networks can be finicky, and I know they don't like to play with one another. What search utilities and engines do you use? Let me know if I missed anything