Greg blogged today about a video of a DEMOfall08 panel on “Where the Web is Going” where Peter Norvig from Google and Prabhakar Raghavan from Yahoo both advocated that, rather than supporting only one search at a time, search engines should focus on helping people accomplished larger tasks, such as booking a vacation or finding a job. I won’t be so vain as to assume they read my blog, as these are canonical examples of tasks that current search engines don’t address very well.
I do see value in building task-specific applications that encapsulate the process of accomplishing particular classes of tasks–including any information seeking neccessary towards that end. But I’m not convinced that such applications live inside of search engines. Rather, I think that a search engine (if that is still the right word for it) should be adaptive enough for task-centric applications to leverage it as a tool.
Perhaps it’s natural that leading researchers from Google and Yahoo have a search-centric view of the world. Given my daily work, I sometimes lapse into that view myself. But it’s important for us to realize that search–or, more broadly speaking, information seeking–is a means to an end. At least in the future I envision, information seeking support tools will be so well embedded in task-centric applications that we will almost never be conscious of information seeking as a distinct activity.