Tuesday, December 20

The Spirit of Search, Past, Present and Future

Spirits don't just come in the Christmas variety to visit holiday Scrooges. They also come in the form of users past, present, and future. And this is the time of year that search engines are heralding in the Spirit of Search Present. For example, today Google announced its take on the "interesting" search movers and shakers of 2005. Many of the other major search engines (with the notable exception of MSN) are doing the same. Here is a quick round-up:

  • Google zeitgeist 2005 -- A selective look at the 'interesting' queries of 2005. It is organized into categories: World Affairs, Nature, Movies, Celebrities, and Phenomena. There is no "top queries" list. The top gainers of 2005 are: MySpace, Ares, Baidu, and Wikipedia.
  • Yahoo! 2005 Top Searches -- Top queries include: Britney, 50 Cent, and Cartoon Network.
  • Lycos Top 100 of 2005 -- Paris Hilton, Pamela, and Britney top the list.
  • AOL's 2005 Year in Review -- The most popular: lottery, horoscopes, and tattoos.
Lycos' Daily Report and the Yahoo Buzz Index both have interesting features on the holiday season. Look at the queries. So, what do people want for Christmas?

  • MP3 Players -- specifically the Ipod (Nano, Video, Shuffle, Mini, etc...)
  • Sony PSP
  • XBox 360
  • Laptops
However, search terms have greater meaning beyond telling the latest fads in pop culture and what to buy your nephew for Christmas.

Search terms are fascinating things -- they represent the Spirit of User Intent. John Battelle has a lot to say about user queries and the power of user intent on his blog and in his very interesting book, The Search. Personally, I find queries absolutely fascinating. I would really like to spend some more time researching their deltas from season to season and year to year across the major engines (although a detailed analysis is impossible because much of the data is private, of course).

Yahoo, Google, and other industry leaders use search terms as one important metric in deciding what "verticals" to enter next. I was watching a presentation given by Brad Horowitz from Yahoo, and he had an interesting tidbit: Yahoo decides what verticals to enter based on what users search for. They also order their "tabs" based on the search frequency of that partical "vertical" market.

If you want to create a vertical search engine, of any kind, you should be asking yourself, "What is your audience searching for?" Start analyzing the popular queries across the major search engines. If you work for a search engine with access to a data warehouse, then you are truly blessed. If not, then maybe the most popular are a good starting point. At least some of this data is publicly accessible -- the above links are great starting places. Once you've looked at this year, compare it with past years and look for trends. Then maybe dive into keyword analysis tools for more depth. One thing I think you will notice is that Pamela, Britney, wrestling (WWE) and similar entertainment and celebrity queries consistently float to the top.

Another approach might be to find the important and the popular categories in the query stream. In fact, the search engines have started the process along. Yahoo and others have organized their popular queries into categories like: Music, Sports, TV, Kids Stuff, Movies, Video Games, and News. Staring at these lists it is no surprise that Google recently launched enhanced music search features, more details can be found on Google's blog post on the new features. Hmm, I wonder what will be next!

The Spirit of Search Future: 2006 and beyond. Video, music, movie, and news search (like Topix) have all already seen some attention in 2005, but look for them to really take off next year. There is also gaps in search that aren't covered. From the above list I see sports, kids stuff, and video games -- and that's just for starters. Look for more entertainment centric vertical search in 2006. But, hey, don't take my word for it.

Go check out the top queries of 2005 and make your own predictions about search in 2006. I would love to hear your thoughts.

Up Next: One of the top gainers of 2005 in the Google ZeitGeist (and others), Myspace. And Google's ban on Kozoru.

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