Search Innovation: Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?

June 26, 2009
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It’s unusual for HCIR to make it into the mainstream business press, so I was delighted when Pete Barlas reached out to me in connection with an article he published Wednesday in Investor’s Business Daily, entitled “Bing Feature Has Many Fathers; Rivals Lining Up To Take Credit“.

The genesis for the article was a dispute between Microsoft and Hakia. Hakia’s chief operating officer, Melek Pulatkonak, claims that Bing copied Hakia’s “galleries” features:

“We were approached by Microsoft to show them how the Hakia galleries worked, and we did, and now they have a similar feature — we showed them how to do it,” she said. “We were surprised that it is a featured part of and the most differentiated part of Bing.”

I like the folks at Hakia (I blogged about them a while ago), but here I think they’re over-reacting, at least. The idea of using query refinement to help users focus queries certainly predates both companies, and Hakia, by its own admission, is a relative newcomer to the scene, having launched in 2006.

But the story doesn’t end there. Barlas received a statement from Microsoft claiming that Bing implements faceted search. That’s true for some parts of the site, but it

It’s unusual for HCIR to make it into the mainstream business press, so I was delighted when Pete Barlas reached out to me in connection with an article he published Wednesday in Investor’s Business Daily, entitled “Bing Feature Has Many Fathers; Rivals Lining Up To Take Credit“.

The genesis for the article was a dispute between Microsoft and Hakia. Hakia’s chief operating officer, Melek Pulatkonak, claims that Bing copied Hakia’s “galleries” features:

“We were approached by Microsoft to show them how the Hakia galleries worked, and we did, and now they have a similar feature — we showed them how to do it,” she said. “We were surprised that it is a featured part of and the most differentiated part of Bing.”

I like the folks at Hakia (I blogged about them a while ago), but here I think they’re over-reacting, at least. The idea of using query refinement to help users focus queries certainly predates both companies, and Hakia, by its own admission, is a relative newcomer to the scene, having launched in 2006.

But the story doesn’t end there. Barlas received a statement from Microsoft claiming that Bing implements faceted search. That’s true for some parts of the site, but it feels like a half-truth. Bing’s general web search offers search suggestions, but does not implement faceted search.

The plot thickens. Vivisimo’s chief scientist, Jerome Presenti, claims that his company was “really the first one to provide a broad categorized search”. But, as Barlas points out, what Vivisimo offers is clustering, which is neither categorization (at least some of us make a sharp distinction between supervised categorization into predetermined categories and unsupervised clustering) nor faceted search. Marti Hearst offers a good analysis (including a critique of Vivisimo’s Clusty.com) in “Clustering versus faceted categories for information exploration“.

I take some of the credit for explaining these distinctions to Barlas, and he got it–though I’m sure some of the credit is due to others he talked with, including IDC analyst Sue Feldman and Danny Sullivan, editor-in-chief of Search Engine Land.

Squabbling among vendors makes for good press, and there’s a legitimate business interest when companies start threatening each others with lawsuits, as Hakia has said it’s considering. And there’s certainly room for arguments over who has a better approach or implementation.

But let’s – and here I speak as someone who often represents Endeca in these discussions – at least agree to standardize on basic terms that have now been around for a while, like categorization, clustering, and faceted search. There’s enough of a vocabulary problem for our users; let’s not cultivate one in our press relations and legal posturing.

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