In a recent blog post “Forget Searching For Content – Content Is About To Start Searching For You”, Brian Proffitt, who, among other things, is an adjunct instructor at the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame, proclaimed that content is about to start searching for us rather than us searching for content. Well, content may be searching for me, but somehow it’s not finding me. Or, to be clearer, content is finding me but it’s not the content I was looking for.
Proffitt was talking about efforts on the part of search engines to contextualize search based on geography, relevance, push, security and privacy. One of his examples was Notre Dame. If he’s on campus, he gets results about his university. Should he venture across the Atlantic to France, he gets results about the cathedral in Paris.
That’s great, I suppose, if your only concern is that you grab a few facts about something close by. It’s not terribly useful if you’re a student in South Bend (home of Proffitt’s university) doing a research project on French cathedrals. In fact, that’s the great fallacy in contextual search. Figuring out context based on geolocation works well only if the intent of the search is personal shopping. For information professionals, it’s largely been a dud.
And the notion that a revolutionary new development in search technology is pushing data to the user is just plain wrong. Stephen E. Arnold and Eric S. Arnold wrote about push and pull 16 years ago! (Push technology: Driving traditional online into a corner,” Database; Aug/Sep 1997; pg. 36+ ). Pushing information to the user is not a new endeavor.
Proffitt has it right about search engines’ desire to “knowledgize” search, however. Both Google and Bing are incorporating Knowledge Graphs into search results. Greg Notess talks about this in his upcoming article in the July/August 2013 issue of Online Searcher. The problem is that too many mistakes crop up in those knowledge boxes. Information is only as good as the source from which it is derived.
The changes in search technology, whether it’s contextual, semantic, personalization, or something else, is a topic of great interest to information professionals and will be exhaustively discussed at WebSearch University in September in Washington DC.
I know some of the librarians at Notre Dame. I’m hoping they can find Proffitt and educate him about the needs of professional researchers.