Conversational Search: Is it the Future of Search?
Posted on August 1, 2014
For people everywhere, we use online search functions to look for all types of information -- from what the weather will be today to how old Abraham Lincoln was when he died. Yet the one drawback with these search options was that you had to type in the person's name or your location every single time you asked a new question. Google and Bing are trying to conquer such limitations by rolling out "conversational searches."
Conversational searches are semantic searches using natural language where you can continue asking questions and the search engine will keep up with the conversation. So if you were to ask "how old was Abraham Lincoln when he died?' the conversational search will bring back the exact answer, "56 (1809 - 1865)," in a small information card at the top of the page. You don't have to click on any website and search for the answer.
Yet it doesn't stop there. Type in a following question "who was his wife?" The conversational search engine would now bring back the results, "Mary Todd Lincoln." The semantic search understands who you were referring to from the previous question without typing in the name again. It recognizes pronouns and other shortcuts, references them to previous queries, and searches through its vast knowledge repository to continue with the conversational thread much in the same way as two people who are chatting at the coffee shop.
Google vs Bing: Who Dominates the Conversation?
Google was the first to introduce the conversational search back in May 2013, while Microsoft's Bing rolled out their version in the beginning of August this year. There are some major differences between these two search engines.
Google's new search function is only available to Chrome users and on Android's Google Now. Bing's new search feature is available to people in the United States, yet it hasn't made the jump across the pond to allow users in other countries to access this feature. Microsoft plans to roll it out through its Cortana Personal Assistant so it becomes available on Windows OS, Windows Phone and Xbox operating systems.
Chrome users can use the "Search by Voice" option where you can ask the question aloud and Google's search engine will speak the answer back to you in a conversational manner as you can also read it on the computer screen. It does not allow for manually typing in the question in the search box. Bing allows you to manually type the answer into the search box but has yet to delve into talking searches.
Both search engines still have their limitations. If you were to ask for popular restaurants in New York, you will get a broad listing of dining places from Google as it will not speak every listing to you. So it seems the broader the answer is, the less likely you will get a specific answer. Both search engines also have limited conversation strings. By the fourth or fifth question, the search engines drop out of the conversation and just offers general search answers.
It hasn't been decided if one search engine will dominate over the other. Yet it is obvious that Google and Microsoft are looking for ways for more intuitive search engines that accurately bring back refined results. Both companies plan to roll out more improvements as they invest in this new search feature.
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