Today at SMX East, natural language search engine Hakia has launched a new search experience that enables searchers to view categorized results, as well as view “Trusted” Results” from “Credible Sites”.
The Trusted Results program is an initiative Hakia has developed with information professionals and librarians. As they note on their site:
A popular Web source may not always be credible, and a credible Web source may not always be popular. hakia is the first search engine to integrate librarians’ collective knowledge of credible Web sites into search results to guide searchers.
So far, these results are available for health, medical, and environmental topics and they are looking to expand coverage. Below, more information about what’s new at Hakia, how to vette sites for their new program, and how the changes stack up compared to the rest of the search industry.
Every search engine, whether it’s trying to become the default search experience or provide a niche vertical search, operates within the shadow of Google. Google helped usher in a searching culture, and not only are searchers more likely to”Google” something than they are to go elsewhere to search for something, but the Google experience is the search behavior they tend to expect.
So how can other search engines compete? Certainly distribution and awareness are driving factors in getting searchers to try something new, but user experience is key in getting them to stay.
Building a better search engine
The plan for building a better search engine often includes the following building blocks:
- Comprehensiveness. Cuil stressed this when they launched earlier this year, but they seemed to have lost footing with freshness, which is a key obstacle to overcome when managing so much information.
- Relevance. Google is widely credited with gaining popularity due to its breakthroughs in algorithmically measuring relevance across the web. PageRank was a major factor, but understanding query intent and usefulness of sites based on that query are at least as important to relevance quality as isolated page popularity.
- User experience. Many search engines have experimented with an experience that’s differentiated from Google. While these interfaces may be a step forward for search, the fact that they’re different from Google (which is the behavior searchers expect) makes their adoption more difficult. Ask was praised for its innovative approach to UI with Ask 3D, but as of today, they’ve replaced that interface with what appears to be more like their previous approach.
Hakia’s approach to relevance
Hakia’s initial launch tackled relevance by applying semantic technology. As I noted from my talk with them last year:
They point out that while the traditional search engines bring back good results most of the time, it’s impossible to know if pages that weren’t returned (because they have too few links to them, for instance) would have been more relevant for the query. By understanding the concepts on web pages rather than relying on things like external links and anchor text, they feel they can have a better sense of what page across the entire web is most useful to a searcher.
Human-powered search results
With this latest launch, they’re expanding their focus on relevance by engaging with librarians to manually compile lists of “trusted” sites for particular categories. They say that “Google (and others like Google) don’t make the distinction of what is credible (or quality) what is not.” They note Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s recent comments when launching the World Wide Web Foundation that new systems are needed that give trustworthiness labels to web sites that have been proven to be reliable sources.
Of course, Hakia isn’t the only search engine that’s partially human powered. Mahalo uses both paid and volunteer guides (although they aren’t necessary experts in the subject matter) and even Google itself recently entered the “credible sources” fray with Knol.
Differentiated user experience
Hakia is also launching a new way of navigating search results. The All results tab displays web results, credible sites and news results. Searchers can also view only pages from credible sites, images, or news and have easiest access to galleries.
Many search engines have been experimenting with results beyond the traditional “10 blue links”. However, as of yet, these new experiences haven’t seemed to have pulled searchers away from Google. Google itself, of course, continues to experiment with new experiences as well, including continued evolution of its universal search results as well as more radical changes such as those seen with SearchMash.
It’s great to see search innovation continue and this is just another example of how some part of that innovation is finding the right balance between algorithmic and manual assessment. I’ve joked lately in talks that searchers see Google as a “truth machine”, when in reality it’s just presenting what it finds with no commentary on its validity (with Knol being an exception). As we rely more on the web, we may have more need for the Berners-Lee vision of trust labels, and search engines like Hakia are providing a glimpse of what that might look like.