Interesting quote from a recent interview with Marissa Mayer (Google) taken from this TechCrunch interview:

Question: Is it fair to say that search is in its infancy.

Answer: Very much so. It was interesting for our engineers to see that early index and see how far we’ve come in ten years. But when you think about what would be the perfect search engine, what is an answer as opposed to a result? Why are we handing you just links and URLs? You know, what does it mean to try and synthesize a video or an image or a diagram that better explains your answer or maybe even grabs facts from all the different pages and helps you do comparisons. There’s just a lot of different things we can do…..

I’ve highlighted the bit that grabbed my attention and it follows a theme I’ve blogged before (click here to see a post from 20th Nov 2008). Basically, search engines do not answer questions, they post results.

Would clinicians (or other search engine users) want answers or search results?

Until people realise the difference between the two and realise their users want answers not results I’m afraid the aspirations will be limited. Our, modest but expanding attempt, at supplying answers (see TRIP Answers) is doing really well, but it has less than 6,000 answers. Having 100,000 clinical Q&As quality marked and easily searchable is the challenge. The irony is the ‘answers’ are in all the documents that exisit. Take CKS guidelines, these are very long documents (too long for clinicians to easily navigate) that must contain over 100 clearly defined Q&As and with around 200 guidelines that’s around 20,000 Q&As (from experience CKS answers the questions GPs have, it’s by far and away the best resource). Another example is the Green Book (the Government’s document on immunisation practice), there are 25+ chapters and each has over 15 clearly defined Q&As within them.

Here’s hoping that people start to understand – soon – the difference between results and answers.