Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Travolution@ACTE Barcelona

Tricia Holly Davis sends a report from the Association of Corporate Travel Executives conference in Barcelona

"People don't want to search," proclaimed Dr. Ricardo Baeza-Yates, director of research for Yahoo! Europe and Latine America, during a speech at the Association of Corporate Travel Executives conference in Barcelona.

Rather, Baeza-Yates clarified, "People want answers." One challenge facing Yahoo!, (and any company in the search business for that matter) is how to know what the best "answer" is.

In other words, how do companies like Yahoo! "mine" the billions of bits of customer information they have to figure out exactly what people are searching for and subsequently deliver information that is tailored to their personal lifestyles, likes, hobbies, etc?

"Every time you search you are saying something about yourself," said Baeza-Yates.

Sort of like predictive text, predictive search, would enable Yahoo! to individualise the search process.

This is not an entirely new concept. Supermarkets are kings at using customers' prior purchases to sell products that they would be most likely to buy.

In the online world, there is arguably no company better at predicting customers' mood than Amazon, which knows what book or CD a customer is likely to buy, based on that individual's purchasing history.

What Yahoo! is talking about is one step beyond what supermarkets and Amazon have been doing for years. Yahoo! wants to capture customer knowledge to create a virtual encyclopaedia that is uniquely tailored to each individual.

Whether this vision will give Yahoo! enough momentum to overtake the emperor of search and its main rival Google is unclear.

What is clear to some industry observers is that Yahoo! is arguably still trying to recover from its failure a decade ago to recognise that search would be big business, an oversight that some suggest let Google rule.

"One of the great things about the web," mused Baeza-Yates, "is that you can predict things but sometimes you'll be wrong. This is a good thing – otherwise, life would be just boring."

Tricia Holly Davis, freelance journalist

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