Dan Appleman: Kibitzing and Commentary

My personal blog

I’m a tech skeptic. Seriously. My first reaction to anything new is almost always doubt – especially if it comes with a ton of hype. And I stay skeptical for a long time. As a result, my track record for predicting which technology will be slow to catch on (or fail) is pretty good. Unfortunately, as with most people, my track record for predicting which technology is going to boom is average – I usually figure it out after it’s happened.
Once I got it right – when I saw the Visual Basic 1.0 beta, I knew that it was going to be huge and change the nature of software development. I responded to that change by launching Desaware.
This week I felt the same way when I saw Google Custom Search. Within 12 hours I had launched SearchDotNet.com – really as an experiment (and a tool for my own research, that is already proving useful).
The more I think of it the more I’m convinced that Google Custom Search is going to do for search what VB did to Windows development – change the paradigm.

Think about it.
What the web did (and blogging accelerated) was give everyone the opportunity to publish to the world. This is as revolutionary a development as the invention of the printing press. This development of course required the invention of search – some way to find and filter content from all of these sites. From this came Yahoo and Google and many others. Yahoo’s claim to fame was applying human intelligence to assigning sites to categories for browsing. Google’s was in smart algorithms for finding relevant information. Both led to an entire industry of search optimization.
What Google Custom Search does is change the paradigm. We already have the concept of any individual acting as a gatekeeper/aggregator of information – RSS aggregation tools and blogrolls are part of that. But now any individual can be an aggregator of search as well.
Consider this example:
Recently I was shopping for a digital camera. Searching Google for information and reviews was effective enough, but I had to search through dozens of sites that were irrelevant – many of them storefronts repeating exactly the same content (usually the product description posted on Amazon). If I’m correct, within a month or two at the most there will be custom search engines that limit themselves to digital camera information, review and photography sites exclusively – sites that may have ads, but are not primarily focused on selling, and if they are, at least provide real value added content.
So what you would do is, rather than searching for digital cameras on Google, you’d search for a digital camera custom search engine. I have no doubt custom search engine searches will be available if they aren’t already. I expect there will be sites that aggregate search engine listings, probably including user rankings as well.
The beauty of this system is that it includes the best of what Yahoo had to offer – intelligent (human) categorization – except that instead of a relative handful of Yahoo experts, you have potentially huge numbers of individual domain experts choosing sites to search. The end result – better search for everyone.
Custom search also has the ability to “level” the playing field to emphasize quality over quantity. For example: On SearchDotNet.com, my favorite feature is the ability to refine results “by_expert”. This limits results to sites and blogs published primarily by really knowledgeable people – Microsoft MVP’s, members of the developer team, etc. You may get fewer hits, but the ones you do get have real quality. Which is what you want from search, right?
Custom search engines may break search engine optimization – at least in terms of the kinds of techniques used these days to boost certain sites. With human gatekeepers over search engines, you’ll need real content to convince them to include your site on their lists. Or maybe a big enough bribe (not sure how that fits into Google’s terms of service – you can’t be paid feels for results, but it’s not clear if that applies to being paid to include a site in your custom search engine).
Of course I may be wrong about all of this, but my gut feel is that Google Custom Search is a really, really big deal.