For those of us with only mortal brainpower, Bill Bryson's vivid imagery renders the concept of complex systems accessible. Complex systems are those that are greater than the sum of their parts; they have properties that cannot be explained through reductionism; they are economies and hurricanes and you and me.
Search is a complex system.
Search is a system that incorporates our behavior, our feedback, and our propensity to swarm. We are awash in a sea of practically infinite data, co-created through our news pages and our blogs and our Web sites and our Flickr accounts, and the infinitude of this data forces us to rely on every tool in our arsenal to get the good stuff to reveal itself. And, like cream rising to the top, a small fraction of the global information set makes its way into our consciousness.
We expect that Google and Yahoo and Kumo will do their job and find that cream for us. We hope that the bits that make it past our filtration are worthy of our attention. And we keep our fingers crossed that the engines are winning the good fight against the spammers and scammers and black hats.
Those engines have ridiculously complicated and absolutely necessary algorithms to determine relevance. When it comes down to it, though, search is a function of four immutable principles:
Yes, Twitter holds the largest database of real-time conversations in history (I assume). But Evan and Biz are still going to have to work out how to separate the wheat from the chaff. TechCrunch demonstrated this with its "Real-Time Search-Off," in which the number one result for the query "space shuttle" was "Just watched the space shuttle go overhead -- so cool."
Find me the links, Biz. Find me the relevance. Find me the cream.
Sure, Google's still raking in the billions and Twitter's still essentially penniless. But that doesn't mean the big G ain't anxious.
We are each of us a complex system, and we live in
a complex world. But even complex systems have their underlying principles. Do you agree with these?
Editor's Note: Unfortunately, Aaron Goldman's Search Insider column was emailed on Wednesday, May 20, with its ending cut off. To get the full impact of his theory -- "Is Twitter To Facebook As Google Is To Yahoo?" -- check out the complete version here.