Search is a Love Problem

I first had the idea for this post a few years ago, when Google’s April Fool’s Day prank was to define love as a search problem and talked about how Google Romance was going to find you the person of your dreams.


We wish! (Although, at one time it DID work for Rory). But anyway, it got me thinking about Search and Community, and now that I’ve been on the Live Search team for a year I have more I can say.


So in their April Fool’s Day prank, Google had it precisely inverted. Love is not a search problem as much as search is actually a love problem, and all the search boxes in the world will have to take that fact into account.


Now I’m not going to talk about how computer geeks love computer algorithms, or how math geeks love the math of search, or how crawlers love the web pages they crawl (which sounds too kinky for this blog). I’m going to talk about how you find things around the house, what your friends do when they give you stuff, versus what happens when you are with strangers.


a) You wander around the kitchen groggily looking for the coffee grounds, which you know were in the cupboard only yesterday. Your housemate says: I put them by the sink cupboard behind the coffeepot. (Very Local Search)


b) You are on the phone with your mom and she says: you know those pants you loved when we were out shopping last weekend? They just went on sale this afternoon so I picked you up a pair. (Shopping/Product Search)


c) You realize your coworker left a notebook full of info on your desk on next steps for your project. You bring it back to them. (Sharing – think but also,


Can you imagine if your experiences were different? As in, no love?


a) Your ex-housemate now hates you, moves out. Suddenly, there’s all sorts of porn magazines delivered to your mailbox at home. You have to wade through the piles of nudes to find your copy of Wired. (PORN SPAM GONE WILD)


b) You want coffee and your too-cheery housemate says: Buy NEW MAXWELL HOUSE STARBUCKS CRUNCHYBROWN  BEANS! WITH EXTRA CAFFEINE! But does not lead you to the coffee. What kind of friend IS  this? Certainly, no friend of Betsy’s.  (ADS GONE WILD)


c) Your mom mails you a sweater she thinks is perfect but actually looks better on her than you. (Now, this can actually happen and it is not a sign of anyone hating you, just mom’s taste in clothes and yours = totally different.) But then, not to offend her, you wear the sweater at the next family function and more relatives buy you similar ones for Christmas, thinking that you liked it. πŸ˜›  (BAD SEARCH HISTORY GONE WILD)


Because at the end of the day, it’s not what the search engine thinks is the most relevant answer. It’s what a human brain thinks is the most relevant answer. Humans make the queries, and humans make the answers. In the end, the user experience is what matters. And humans determine the user experience.


That’s why community features and approaches are so important. A search engine isn’t going to collate information from several web sites into a “how-to” because it’s never made bath fizzies/bombs before. A search engine hasn’t lived through the experience of where to put aging parents who can still get around but might fall down with no one to help. And even if the math is perfect, only so many answers fit on that first page, and there are many more types of people in the world who may disagree with the results. 


Search is a love problem.


— Betsy Aoki, Program Manager, Live Search


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