Searching for Understanding: Improving Internet Search

    I. Why We Search

    Search is not an end in itself. We search on the internet to find. Unless we experience searching and finding as entertaining in itself, we want to find things in order to make decisions or take actions. What are prerequisites to making decisions or taking actions? Therein lies a key to improving internet search.

    I claim that decisions and actions require the formulation of a coherent worldview, in which the decision or action is a natural consequence of that worldview. In other words, decision making -- such as making a purchase on the internet -- involves

    • acquiring new knowledge
    • integrating that new knowledge into our prior knowledge
    • creating a 'mental picture' of all the elements, trade-offs
    • and, most importantly, understanding how we fit in that world, how we see ourselves in the worldview we have made

    Subsequent sections of this page probe more deeply into this approach. Section II addresses the specific confidences needed to make a purchase. Section III argues that knowledge modeling will be a necessary part of an improved search experience.


    II. Three phases of user shopping confidence

    One useful view of the 'shopping experience' comprises 'layers of user confidence':

    • confidence that I understand enough about the domain AND MYSELF in
      that domain [the meaning I make of it, including my values and
      priorities] to look into possible products
    • confidence that I understand enough about the POSSIBLE PRODUCTS to
      choose one, and
    • confidence that I understand enough about vendor choices and price
      options to choose where to buy

    In an important sense, EVERYTHING about product purchase on the web
    comes down to those levels of confidence, and helping the user move from
    one to another. therein lies monetization.

    Here is a larger pictorial representation.


    III. Why knowledge modeling is key to improving search

    So much is written about search, its present state of wonderfulness and its bright future. Absent is a structure or argument as to how the problems with current search -- ambiguity, inefficiency, complexity, and not finding what you want -- will be solved. The following constitutes an argument for the necessary role of knowledge modeling in improving search:

    • as users, we search in order to find, and we find in order to learn and to act
    • to learn or act intelligently, we need to construct a coherent worldview based on the new information we find
    • constructing a worldview is hard work -- subtle, complex, often ineffable
    • constructing a worldview is most efficient when it's a 'conversation' -- an interaction that accounts for prior knowledge, creates a relationship and history, supports comprehension, yet keeps evolving and converging toward the goal of learning or acting
    • a useful conversation is impossible without a shared history. search engines can't hold personalized conversations (a.k.a. respond more specifically to the individual) until they know an individual's worldview
    • worldview = evolving knowledge model
    • web content = existing knowledge model
    • shared history = shared models



    Related Links

    Materials related to Internet Search.

    Summary page. Approaches to 'user experience', philosophy and implementations.


    © Copyright Paul Pangaro 2005. All Rights Reserved.