There is no time like the New Year to rethink everything and take a step back in an attempt to see the proverbial forest from the trees. Often this comes to me in the form of wondering where the words we use come from.
The verb "search" comes through the Old French circare, meaning to "go about, wander, traverse," from the Latin circus or circle - A very fitting description indeed. The term comes to be known in the early fourteenth century and would exactly describe the process of looking for something or someone. An individual actually had to go about and wander around looking for what they sought.
Contrast this with the expectations placed on search engines today. Users expect the engine to know immediately upon asking, often using a query of less than two words, where the exact piece of content is they are looking for. If it does require a bit of wandering or traversing it seems to immediately frustrate the user. The desire is that the document most relevant to them is returned in the top results every time. Very little wandering or going about is expected by the user.
In reality the user is not performing a search but instructing the search engine to do so - yet we say "I am going to search for X." We query but the engine does all the "going about, wandering and traversing." This usage is very telling - the engine and the process of its searching has become an extension of the user. The expectation is that the engine, being a natural extension of themselves, knows their every desire and what they consider important.
In light of this should we should not be surprised at user's constant complaints regarding their search experience. Yet the industry seems to keep churning out more and more algorithms that focus on natural language processing, semantic search and other content focused approaches. Vendors seem to neglect and purchasers of enterprise engines keep pushing back deploying any sort of relevance methods that actually focus on understanding the user and fall for the newest vendor jargon year after year.
In this coming year I do not doubt we will see some very interesting technologies brought to market. They will undoubtedly allow us to find experts, tag results, star them and move them around, share them and socialize them - but will they seek to understand what is relevant to an individual searcher? Search profiles on a individual level do exist in some engines but usually remain fixed and static - ignoring context and behavior altogether.
I am putting in an early request - all I want for Christmas is my enterprise search engine to pay attention to me this year.