Potential “Valet” Service: Robust (Semantic) Search and Info Delivery

by Emily W. Sussman

Yes, information is everywhere, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to get what you want. Case in point: While researching one of those ubiquitous “future of journalism” op-ed columns — the logic of which hinged on key events in the history of paid news content on the web  — Stanford prof. Joel Brinkley apparently missed a few things, as Steve Yelvington informs us on his blog.

Some of these were fairly big omissions. Like Brinkley’s failure to acknowledge the existence of New Century Network, that well-intentioned but ill-fated effort in the mid-90’s to aggregate the online presence of the major news publishers.

And some was just faulty reporting. Like a gaffe on whether it was the Justice Department or Congress that was originally responsible for exempting certain same-city newspaper consolidations from antitrust laws. 

But perhaps Brinkley’s gaffes say more about the current dismal state of web information search and delivery than about his reporting skills. [Note: I don’t know whether Brinkley did his reporting for the column on the web or not, so for the sake of this argument, I’ll use myself as an example.]

Let’s say I’m doing web research for my own “future of journalism” piece. And let’s say I want to know whether there’s been any sort of unified effort on the part of newspapers to bundle and charge for their online content. So I type in the following search terms together:


Pretty basic. But that’s the point. I don’t know what I’m looking for specifically, so I can’t be explicit.

So what do I come up with? Ideally, results that would include a mention of NCN. But I find myself staring down more than 1.5 million hits — none of which, browsing through the first five or so pages of Google’s results, look all that promising as far as leading me to anything concrete.

Sure, I could sit for hours thinking about better search terms to input. Or dive right into the first (remotely promising) hit, hoping it’ll lead me down a yellow brick road to some meaningful information. But either way, I know my afternoon’s as good as gone. 

Which made me long for a sophisticated information search service — something that delivered a relevant, credible, streamlined yet comprehensive package of search results from a database of trusted news sites. Something that would have understood the robust content of my full research query (perhaps I could have told it I was looking for any and all examples of past collaborations) and delivered it to me accordingly, either in one piece or as a series of periodic updates. 

I’m not sure how soon that “something” is coming down the pipeline. (If only I could think of the right search terms to track down that info!) But would that be something I’d be willing to pay for, say, in the context of the IVP?  If it saved me from embarrassing gaps in my research — you bet.


One response to “Potential “Valet” Service: Robust (Semantic) Search and Info Delivery

  1. brianjosephlewis

    The yearning for an effective and popularly accepted search syntax has been stalled by the rise of Googlezilla. In 2000, it was big news when Google decided to acknowledge the “or” boolean operator (see http://www.searchengineshowdown.com/features/google/googleboolean.html). Since then, though, fancy algorithm driven competitors like Ask.com have been relegated to screaming from the virtual sidelines that the big G maintains its dominance by sheer horsepower, relying upon saturation-level caching and redundant spidering while other engines attempt to ferret-out the sub-structure of the information arrayed online by means of tinkering with their algorithm. True semantic computing could overtake Google if it were a close enough approximation to the way good content relates to other quality online material. Transparency in overall architecture design benefits the rebel cause in this case.

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