What is the future of search?

Here is a link to an interesting story by Dean Takahashi of the San Jose Mercury discussing an internet start-up called Mahalo (named for the Hawaiian word meaning "Thank You").

The article reports that "Mahalo is a search engine that is powered by human judgment, known in Web 2.0 circles as 'curation.' Curation uses human expertise to weed out all the stuff that you obviously don't want when you're searching."

The Mahalo site itself states, "With traditional search engines you need to figure out the right search term and find relevant results within an unorganized list that often contains irrelevant results, spam, and some mediocre sites" and "Search results for certain categories such as products, travel, cars, and health, are cluttered with people selling things, making it difficult to find great information on those topics."

Regardless of the actual usefulness or success of this particular Mahalo site and their approach (which they claim is "the world's first human-powered search engine"), the issue should raise important questions if you are thinking like a portfolio manager. What other ways will we "search" (navigate the vast and growing amount of information available on the internet) in the future?

Right now, Google is the acknowledged champion of search. Their share of search is more than twice that of their next competitor (Yahoo!). According to NetRatings, Google share of all search in the US is just over 50%, with Yahoo! second at about 20% and MSN third at less than 15%. Globally, Google represents an even greater percentage of search, at nearly 70%.

However, the search engines mentioned above yield results based on algorithms such as Google's PageRank, which ranks search results based on the web of links to and from different pages. While this method has its strengths, it certainly has disadvantages as well. You may value the input and opinions of certain circles of friends or experts on one subject or another greater than you value the rankings generated by measuring the links on the web.

There are a variety of things that you search for that could be improved with forms of search that include conscious human input, including the input of the various circles of people with whom you associate (your friends from business school for some information, the other parents of children at your kids' school for other information, fans of the Boston Celtics for other information, and so on). Mahalo may well be just the first in a shift in the way that the information on the web is found and navigated. While the existing method will probably continue to have usefulness, in five years it may be just one of many players in the cast of internet facilitators, and a small one at that .

* The principals of Taylor Frigon Capital Management do not own securities issued by Google (GOOG) or Yahoo! (YHOO).

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