The Noisy Channel

 

Where Google Isn’t Good Enough

August 7th, 2008 · 5 Comments · General

My last post, Is Google Good Enough?, challenged would-be Google killers to identify and address clear consumer needs for which Google isn’t good enough as a solution. I like helping my readers, so here are some ideas.

  • Shopping. Google Product Search (fka Froogle) is not one of Google’s crown jewels. At best, it works well when you know the exact name of the product you are looking for. But it pales in contrast to any modern ecommerce site, such as Amazon or Home Depot. What makes a shopping site successful? Put simply, it helps users find what they want, even when they didn’t know exactly what they wanted when they started.
  • Finding a job. Google has not thrown its hat into the ring of job search, and even the page they offer for finding jobs at Google could use some improvement. The two biggest job sites, Monster and Careerbuilder, succeed in terms of the number of jobs posted, but aren’t exactly optimized for user experience. Dice does better, but only for technology jobs. Interestingly, the best job finding site may be LinkedIn–not because of their search implementation (which is adequate but not innovative), but because of their success in getting millions of professionals to provide high-quality data.
  • Finding employees. Again, LinkedIn has probably come closest to providing a good employee finding site. The large job sites (all of which I’ve used at some point) not only fail to support exploratory search, but also suffer from a skew towards ineligible candidates and a nuisance of recruiters posing as job seekers. Here again, Google has not tried to compete.
  • Planning a trip. Sure, you can use Expedia, Travelocity, or Kayak to find a flight, hotel, and car rental. But there’s a lot of room for improvement when it comes to planning a trip, whether for business or pleasure. The existing tools do a poor job of putting together a coordinated itinerary (e.g., meals, activities), and also don’t integrate with relevant information sources, such as local directories and reviews. This is another area where Google has not tried to play.

Note two general themes here. The first is thinking beyond the mechanics of search and focusing on the ability to meet user needs at the task level. The second is the need for exploratory search. These only scratch the surface of opportunities in consumer-facing “search” applications. The opportunities within the enterprise are even greater, but I’ll save that for my next post.

5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Anonymous // Aug 11, 2008 at 12:24 pm

    An amusing ‘case study’ (of sorts) of trip planning with Google maps:

    http://xkcd.com/461/

  • 2 Daniel Tunkelang // Aug 11, 2008 at 6:06 pm

    I miss when they used to give swimming directions.

  • 3 Gene Golovchinsky // Mar 14, 2009 at 5:54 pm

    One challenge for task-oriented or task-situated search is that the one-size-fits all approach (with its economy of scale) doesn’t apply as much. Not only do you need to develop a new interface for each task, but also even the kinds of things you index and the ways that you compute matches may be different.

    Google’s strategy here seems similar to Microsoft’s with respect to Word and PowerPoint: put all your functionality into one product that is equally (poorly) suitable for everyone rather than trying to design custom tools for smaller markets

  • 4 Daniel Tunkelang // Mar 14, 2009 at 7:19 pm

    Indeed, it would be nice if all of these software applications had more platform-like qualities that allowed developers to customize them to particular tasks. Google does offer a custom search engine option, but it seems pretty limited to me, and I haven’t been impressed by implementation. As far as I can tell, it serves mainly as a free / cheap alternative to building your own site search solution.

    As for customizing the Microsoft Office suite, I have no idea what’s possible, but I wouldn’t expect an open API for non-trivial customization. Have any alternative productivity suites offered one?

  • 5 LinkedIn: HCIR for Fun and Profit // Mar 19, 2011 at 10:10 pm

    […] while that these and similar tasks that are neglected by the information retrieval community and not adequately addressed by Google . For example, while there has been significant research effort in the area of expert finding, […]

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