If you search then you will find (Part 1)

I was asked the other day why is search so important for the BMJ Best Practice app? I thought that it would be a great time to share some of my thoughts about the importance of search and around the trends that we’re are seeing over a series 3 of articles.

Part 1 will look at the early days of search and how search has developed over the last 20 years, part 2 will look at search today and the final part in the series will examine what these changes means to us as a company.

Background

During my university years (I know a long time back) I can remember going to the Engineering Department’s library just to be able to use the internet. I signed into a desktop computer, opened up Netscape Navigator 2.0 (the only browser available to me) and then typed in the url of my favourite search engine, AltaVista (now part of Yahoo).

A 2009 screenshot of AltaVista.com
A 2009 screenshot of AltaVista.com

The page loaded and I was quite excited to see a complex page with many hyperlinks (this used to be the way that we found information as all important websites were categorised), I entered a search term and pressed on the ‘search’ button. When the search engine presented the results I was quite often left disappointed by the quality of the results returned. They were often a list of random websites in no particular order and more often or not when clicking on a search result I was sent to a website with low quality content normally written by webmasters with flashing gifs (images). Back in those days not too much consideration was ever given to the user or the reader.

Major developments in search

Luckily, the world has progressed from my early experiences of the internet and of internet search. We’ve seen some significant developments over the years, here a list of some of the major changes:

  • Our reliance on internet search
  • The dominance of 1 search engine – Google now processes over 40,000 search queries every second on average, which translates to over 3.5 billion searches per day
  • The importance of being the 1st item in the search results
  • A new industry has been created, search engine optimisation (SEO)
  • A focus on the user and providing high quality results
  • Autocomplete – providing the users with popular options
  • Autocorrect  – providing the user with the correct spelling
  • Searches covering more than just websites (video, news, books…)
  • Personalised searches (location, history, trends..)
  • Targeted advertising based on what the user is searching for.
  • Mobile searches
  • Voice searches
  • The importance of context (time, location sensitive information & with an understanding of user’s intent)
  • A new word in the dictionary, ‘to Google’ – “Search for information about (someone or something) on the Internet using the search engine Google” – Oxford Dictionary
  • Another new word ’Googlewhack’ – “A search term consisting of two words, with no surrounding quotation marks, that produces one single result when entered into the search engine Google” – Oxford Dictionary
  • Homepages have lost their importance (long-tail effect).

Conclusion

Internet search technology has progressed significantly from its early years from something that was quite basic and non-personalised to a technology that’s quite sophisticated and it’s starting to understand the user and their intent. In article 2, we will examine how clever is search today?