For a while, most of us thought Google had solved search. Now we know better: The rise of personal assistants such as Siri, vertical-specific search sites such as TripAdvisor, and now Pinterest “guided search” for lifestyle ideas show there’s plenty Google’s venerable search box can’t do for us.
Pinterest, which has just raised $200 million at a $5 billion valuation, wants to widen our definition of “search” to include “discovery” (when you may not know what you’re looking for yet, but are looking for inspiration).
That’s pretty much been the idea with Pinterest all along, but as Wired points out, the online scrapbooking site has amassed 30 billion pins to sift through. “There’s almost certainly something you’d find interesting, but finding it has become a needle-in-a-haystack problem of a serious magnitude,” Wired writes.
Pinterest’s answer is a new type of search — available initially for mobile — that the company says “can help with the questions that have more than one right answer.”
“Where’s your next vacation or what’s for dinner tonight? … You might not know the best one till you see it,” Pinterest writes.
Another front of search innovation is taking place behind the scenes at Wolfram Alpha, which has a Cambridge office and was founded by mathematician and computer scientist Stephen Wolfram of Massachusetts. Wolfram Alpha’s technology is part of the backbone for the search on the Apple Siri and Samsung Galaxy voice applications.
The technology, which you can also try out yourself, stands out most from Google on queries that involve calculating something — such as “how old was Alfred Hitchcock when he made Psycho?” or “how many calories in a big mac with medium fries?” Google just doesn’t know how to answer those sorts of questions.
Wolfram Alpha is different because it doesn’t scour the Web for the answers, but instead does computations on its own collection of data from a variety of sources. It’s more of a “knowledge engine” rather than a “search engine,” the company says (even if the user interface resembles Google).
Ultimately, such examples prove that our concept of what comprises “search” is getting broader. Search is not just turning up links on the Web. Search can also mean getting the answer to your question — or getting a selection of different possible answers, as the case may be — with no Web surfing necessary.
Kyle Alspach has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since 2005 and was one of the original staff writers at BetaBoston.
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