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The future of search: Do you ask Google or the gaggle?

To improve results, new search engines rely on users instead of computers.

Lisa Haney

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Late last month, media giant Google launched an online featured called SearchWiki, which allows users to rate, annotate, and store results they’ve found particularly useful. The notes have no direct bearing on public rankings, although individual comments are visible to all users.

On the company’s blog, Google said SearchWiki moved search one more step toward a “dynamic” search experience – one in which a community will be able to shape, refine, and organize the raw matter of the World Wide Web.

The concept has a considerable amount of ballast in Silicon Valley, where developers have long predicted that the future of search lies not in proprietary algorithms, such as Yahoo or Google, but in the power of the hive mind.

Over the past few years, a score of so-called “people-powered” search tools have entered the fray, including Stumpedia, Mahalo, Sproose, and Gravee. Most of these sites couple the raw processing power of an algorithmic engine with the functionality of Digg, the community-controlled news aggregator.

“There are a lot of smart people who have looked at Google and Yahoo and said the fundamental way of searching has not changed in nine or 10 years,” says Bob Pack, a founder and CEO of Sproose, which allows users to influence search results with a simple voting mechanism. “You’ve got algorithmic search results, organized into a set of blue links going down the page. Search needs to become richer and more intuitive.”

This community-based approach to search will likely never replace traditional engines when it comes to simple searches, such as checking sports scores or the state of the stock market. But more complex tasks are still handled more effectively by a human.

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