This ZDNet article really reminded me why I started PeteSearch. It’s from 2004, and laments the lack of progress in searching, and not much has changed since then! Sure, there’s been iterative improvements, more flexible term matching, search history and the like, but nothing that a Google user from 2000 would be surprised by.
Part of the problem is that Google can copy most foreseeable outside innovations if they turn out to be popular. It’s really hard to make a business case for funding a company that would in effect be providing them with free R&D, with little prospect of a return. Google themselves are experimenting with new models, but without real competition, they’re in no rush to cook their golden goose. Ask have been the most innovative with their search UI, but even that is still based around the same basic layout.
One phrase really struck me from the article: "Don’t expect users to apply more than the basic tools and techniques to acquire information from a search engine." The stats show that only three percent of people used quotes or other advanced syntax.
A lot of people have concluded that this means people don’t want anything better, and there’s no point trying to improve the page-of-links presentation of results. My firm belief, and the reason I’m experimenting, is that I think it’s just a local-maximum in the space of possible UIs. Why not have a grid of 25 thumbnails, with the positions of the terms marked on each? Or live snippets of the actual rendered page below each link, not just the text? Or a micro-fiche-style view, where you cycle through all the pages at speed in full-screen? Sure, these are random examples, but are people in 2030 really still going to be using plain pages of links?