As good as Google is, search is not over. We all know this. I don’t know of anyone who really uses the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button because it’s extremely rare that all the information you’re looking for is the first thing that pops up.
The leap that pushed Google past Yahoo, AltaVista, etc. was PageRank which injected a little bit of human filtering on the search results (by finding a proxy for determining “importance” of a website). And the next great leap forward in search will also be a way to incorporate more human intelligence into the search results.
Imagine a search company that really knows you, knows the context of the searches that you’re making, knows your interests, knows not only what the general population thinks is crap but what you think is crap. I’m sure people Google, MS, Yahoo, and others are working on that. But for that system to work, users are going to have to give up some privacy and “trust” that the corporations they’re using are going to use that information to serve them better results and better ads.
The hubbub about whether or not Google tracks your searches (Leslie Walker at the Washington Post) was thrust into the blistering light by the government’s request for search data. And this hubbub only shows that a truly intelligent search company is going to have a really hard time picking up steam in this privacy-obsessed tech culture.
The company best positioned to collect that data (Microsoft, because they own the OS and the browser) wouldn’t be allowed to touch that data with the negative perception of them in the vocal parts of the tech community. Even tech-darlings Google would have a hard time rolling out better search based on user-tracked behavior.
In limited numbers, people might give up their privacy for the convenience of better search. But will our tech culture back off on its demand for privacy enough to allow a true wide-spread revolution in search?
Update: Interesting article about this very topic.