Search engine technology has been stagnant over the last few years, with very few advancements of any consequence. Today, however, several software vendors are poised to infuse search engines with new technologies that will enable search engines to:

  • Tag elements in the search index with extensible markup language (XML) so matches between the search string and the index are more accurate.
  • Build complex indices that mix a wide variety of data types including both structured data and unstructured text.
  • Index and consolidate data from online databases – perhaps containing product catalogs – whereas most search engines can only index text documents.
  • Parse search strings with artificial intelligence algorithms that correct misspellings and typographical errors, as well as associate terms in the search string with their synonyms in the search index.
  • Convert natural-language questions to efficient SQL queries or string-based Boolean expressions that a database or search index, respectively, can understand.

THE HURWITZ TAKE: Many people – from IT professionals to end users to Web surfers – are searching for a better search mechanism than the previous generation of search engines can provide. Their quests are driven by a number of factors:

  • The increasing amount of comparative shopping on the Internet – whether business-to-consumer (B2C) or business-to-business (B2B) – where prospective buyers want to compare the prices, availability or shipping media of equivalent products before deciding which to purchase.
  • The many companies currently making a mad dash to Internet-enable their procurement and supply-chain IT systems or to make their product catalogs available to greater numbers of B2C and B2B Web-based shoppers.
  • The fact that users (whether B2C or B2B) want to ask complex, natural-language questions when looking for products to buy, such as: "Where can I find boxes of 2-inch, 16-gauge wire nails for pneumatic nailers in a quantity of at least 10,000?"
  • The logarithmic increase in the volume of documents available over the Internet, which makes accurate-but- limited matching (which is the ultimate assessment of a search engine's effectiveness) evermore difficult.
  • The proliferation of portals, whether on corporate intranets (where sophisticated business users demand a single search mechanism for both structured data and unstructured text) or on the Internet (where trading communities for B2B and shopping-mall-like sites for B2C enable comparison shopping).

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