Tuesday, November 25

Towards task-centric social search engines

At the Demo 08 conference there was a panel on "Where the Web is Going". Greg focused on a section where Peter Norvig from Google and Prabhakar Raghavan from Yahoo! talk about "task-centric search" or "wish fulfillment", which helps people accomplish tasks instead simply an information retrieval engine. Prabhakar says,
Just as today we recognize keywords, we should recognize tasks and intent. The search engine should 'read' and synthesize the information to solve the intent...
Here are some of the complex tasks that I've performed or worked on in the last few months where the current retrieval technology did not solve my underlying task:
  • Find me the 'best' used car within 100 miles of Amherst, MA for less than $10,000.
  • Create a gourmet Thanksgiving menu that is gluten-free.
  • Plan a romantic weekend away to the Finger Lakes that involves hiking and wine tasting for less than $150 dollars per day.
  • Create a homemade Christmas pack of spice mixes and drinks as presents for friends.
These are all complex and highly subjective tasks that require personalization based on my budget, time constraints, skills, and personal preferences. To be able to answer these questions the search engine needs to be able to decompose the tasks to sub-tasks as well as "know me" at a much deeper level than a few keywords. Solving a task requires a dialogue with the engine to clarify ambiguity in the task and sub-tasks. It requires closer "collaboration" between the search engine and the user.

One intriguing thread of many of my search tasks is that I would like to poll my friends and family with knowledge of a specific domain (machine learning) or a geographic area (Finger Lakes). I then want to synthesize their opinions weighted by their expertise and preference similarity. What is the best way to leverage their expertise to help me solve my task?

What is the way forward from keyword-centric search to task-centric search? How will search engines help me leverage my social network and the knowledge of others to solve my task?