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“Got kitesurfing on the mind, mixed with some search & classification tech, and a dab of political ranting”

Spock, and why context makes an app good

Posted by direwolff on November 10, 2006

After harping on my past few posts on the importance of context in search to address meaning, I ran into the following post, Spock offers an ambitious “people” search engine, while catching up on VentureBeat articles I had previously missed. Particluarly noteworthy was Matt Marshall’s comment towards the middle of the article:

Here’s an example of how it works: If you type in “actress,” Spock returns results like Google — with listings down a page. In this case, the first entry is Felicity Huffman, who Spock’s engine finds as the most relevant for “actress.” (Now, if you type in “actress” into Google, you’ll see why Spock has a chance; there are few actresses in the results, except for the annoying site ActressArchives at the top). Moreover, as both Spock and LinkedIn make their profiles more popular, these will rank higher in Google’s results anyway.

Continuing with our “actress” example, you first get a photo of Huffman, but you also get a bunch of tags underneath telling you how she is relevant. For example, there’s tag for “Oscar nominee for best actress,” and “Desperate Housewives,” for which she is well known. There’s a “Wikipedia” tag. If you click on these tags, Spock will take you its relevant results for that tag. This gives users a way of searching for information related to the Huffman.

By being focused on people, Spock can ignore (though it probably doesn’t even index this) information not related to people. In other words, this search engine doesn’t have to get confused about what the person looking for information here is after, since the context that this is a people search engine is set by definition. There will be other hurdles to overcome, but by far the biggest, context, will be greatly reduced if not eliminated. That will make Spock a very effective search service for people related matters.

Context issues are what also drove many of the search and categorization technology providers (that I previously wrote about) into vertical markets. The problem and effectiveness of their technology became easier to manage.

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