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Theory Three: Tools In The Hands of Users

(August 11, 2005) Roughly, Theory One was that vertical search was a necessary carrier for "sell-side advertising. Implicit in that theory, though unstated, is a diminishing of the importance of central hub job boards. Theory Two was that vertical search was an interesting way to keep communities and networks entertained with cheap content, giving a distribution benefit to the job boards while allowing a more passive candidate oriented direct marketing approach.

Here's Theory Three' vertical search is ultimately about giving tools to users.

Indeed, for example, offers this map interface. Combining ad volume and geography makes choices more obvious. We'd like the data parsed to meet our individual needs. The indeed map is a good start at the top level. What we're hoping for is far more intuitive and takes account of the hard work we do asking our machine to work for us.

Consider this map, showing the route from Billings to Bozeman. That's quite a leap of progress. Last year at this time I could have gotten my computer to show me that kind of route, but I had a choice, either do it offline, and get something with great visual fidelity (meaning it's easy for a human being to grasp instantly, because it's presented so visually); or do it online, and get up-to-the-minute-accurate results but not so visual. So things are getting better. I want them to get better faster.

Now consider this page page on Yahoo Travel with stuff about Billings, where I am right now, as I write this. It's got places to stay (not relevant for me, I already have a place to stay, and I like it), attractions for kids (again, not relevant to me, I'm an adult, traveling without children), everything but the information I want -- where is the great scenery, are there neat places to hike by the Yellowstone River (which runs adjacent to the town), what do neighboring communities have to offer, where can I get a healthy meal with local food that's fresh. Do I know anyone who's here right now, if so, who?

Go back to the map. Why isn't it highlighting the same things I'd like the Yahoo Travel page to highlight?

The answer -- it's only 2005. Give it some time. ";->"

But I'm in a hurry. So how can we get there sooner?

First, how could my computer know that I'm interested in neat scenic places to hike, especially hikes that last 1 to 2 hours, aren't too strenuous, and have great scenery and aren't overrun with tourists? Easy -- what do you think I've been searching for and how do you think I've been doing the searching. It knows because that's what I've been asking it for, in my fumbling way.

So it knows what I['m looking for -- does it have it? I think it does. People like me who were in Billings last month and last year and the year before, or who might be here right now, maybe even in the same hotel. Maybe I've been here before and did these searches and found a perfect place and now would like to find another. By now you must be thinking there's nothing profound about this, we all want that, and know it. That's right there's nothing profound, everyone wants this, just watch Star Trek or an Apple video from the late 80s or early 90s. "Computer, tell me where I should go today and what to do, right now, and make it so." This is our dream. This is why we're inventing computer networks, to give us nothing less than heaven on earth.

So, how? I think the answer is to put the tools for constructing data formats into the hands of users. We've been going about it all wrong, coming up with straight-jackets for users, and expecting them to conform to some set of rules that make no sense about how the characters should be encoded, when it's ideas and relationships to other ideas that we want to make it easy for them to express. In other words, we don't know how to capture this data that we want so much, so create a tool for expressing data that at least some people can use, and let them use it, and let them make it public, and then see what kind of crawlers people write, and then learn, and iterate, and try again and again until we're closer to having the information we want at our fingertips, to quote another visionary from another time.
-Dave Winer, Talking with Steve,

Ultimately, my search patterns should help my machine and my potential employers agree on suitability.

John Sumser

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