It’s easy to take online search for granted. If you’re looking to buy something online, connect with an old friend, or just figure out who was in that movie you just watched, you’re a short query and a few seconds away from getting what you want thanks to Google and other search engines. It’s been that way for so long that there’s an entire generation of adults who don’t remember a time before search was available.
But the truth is, online search has a long and storied history — and it wasn’t always very effective. Over the course of decades, online search evolved to the masterful form it exists in today. And learning about this path of evolution can help us understand – and prepare – for what search has in store for us next.
The Origins of Online Search
Online search originated as a kind of digital transformation for historical archive and searching functions. Rather than consulting the Dewey Decimal System and combing through card catalogs — an automatic algorithm could connect users to the resources they want to find.
The earliest known search engine was Archie Query Form, a program from 1990 designed to search FTP sites and automatically create an index of files that could eventually be downloaded. Throughout the 1990s, as the internet became more widely known and accepted, a number of competing search engines arose to serve the general public.
Names like Yahoo!, Lycos, WebCrawler, and AskJeeves became household names, and people began getting used to the idea of using search engines to direct their online traffic.
The Rise of Google
Of course, it wasn’t until Google arose that search engines became streamlined and universally popular. Google wasn’t the first search engine – in fact, it didn’t launch until 1998, almost a decade after the earliest known search engine. But it was easily the best to date.
There are several factors that gave Google the edge, including:
- Faster speed. To the average user, speed was a top factor for consideration – if you could get results 10 times faster with Google than with other search engines, why would you use anything else?
- A deep index. Google’s bots crawled webpages constantly, always discovering new information on the web. Within a year of launch, searches were capable of generating tens of millions of results.
- Simplicity. Yahoo! and other search engines attempted to make their search engines a small component of a bigger web service, offering news, products, and services in addition to search and complicating the online search process. Google’s homepage only included a search bar and two simple buttons. It was remarkably easy to understand.
- Quality of results. Thanks in part to PageRank, people could reliably get high-quality results –in terms of both relevance and authority.
Accordingly, it was only a matter of years before Google became the absolute dominant search engine. It remains in that position today. But how has it grown?
Some of the earliest updates to Google were focused on improving the functionality of components that already existed (such as Googlebot and PageRank). From there, it was a matter of perfecting search engine results pages (SERPs). Early updates attempted to streamline SERPs, making them easier to see and comb through, and incorporating extra features – like separate tabs for News and Images (and later on, Videos).
Future updates would advance SERPs even further, eventually morphing them into the form they enjoy today. But from the start, the focus was on providing a faster, simpler, more streamlined process for search users.
Early on, people began to realize just how much potential SERPs had to make websites more visible and easier for potential customers to find. To take advantage of this, webmasters tried to game the system, stuffing their websites with keywords that might help them rank for relevant terms and spamming links across the internet.
Google quickly took notice of the black-hat-hackers and put measures in place to prevent and address the most egregious offenses. But these “black-hat” tactics in search engine optimization (SEO) persisted for many years, until Google took more serious efforts to combat spam. Google’s efforts were in the form of the much-needed algorithm updates.
Panda and Penguin
The Panda and Penguin updates, from 2011 and 2012, respectively, drastically changed Google – arguably for the better.
Panda was released to improve Google’s ability to detect (and reward) content quality. Websites that stuffed keywords into content, hired non-native speakers, or engaged in other low-quality content production practices were penalized with lower rankings. By contrast, websites with high-quality content were greatly rewarded with higher rankings.
Penguin was released a year later to apply higher quality standards to the world of link building. In the old days of SEO, you could get away with spamming links recklessly, without much planning or forethought. Today’s link-building practices, post-Penguin, are much more sophisticated, prioritizing quality and relevance over all else.
Hummingbird and Smaller Updates
From there, Google rolled out Hummingbird, designed to improve Google’s capacity for “semantic search.” In short, Google wanted to “understand” the intent behind a user’s query, and not simply look for keyword matches on the internet. A follow-up to Hummingbird, RankBrain, introduced a machine-learning algorithm to get better at understanding complex user queries.
After around 2015, major updates stopped coming. Instead, Google introduced small tweaks and minimalistic updates on a near-constant basis, refining the algorithm progressively.
Voice Search and New User Interactions
Over the years, Google and other tech companies have also introduced more ways to search. Instead of typing a query into a search bar, you can search using your voice. Instead of using a desktop computer, you can use your phone, a tablet, or even a “smart speaker,” with no visual interface whatsoever.
The Goals of Search Evolution
All of Google’s updates have focused on one or more of the following goals:
- Quality and accuracy. To make money, Google needs people to use and trust its search engine. That means prioritizing content quality, relevance, and accuracy. Disinformation and “fake news” continue to be problems, but today’s search engine experience is very streamlined.
- Speed. Speed is a non-issue today, but it took time to get to a point where users could get information in a fraction of a second.
- Intuitiveness and convenience. It should be easy even for a novice to get accurate search results. Voice search and other mechanisms have simplified the search experience even further.
- Reduction of manual effort. Recently, Google has leveraged the power of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to improve its search algorithm automatically – with no manual human design or development.
What Does the Future of Search Look Like?
Knowing all this history helps us understand what has made Google so successful, what Google’s priorities are, and how the search engine must operate if it’s going to survive. So what does that mean for the future of search?
For starters, we’ll see more efforts to automate search engine improvements — learning more from user interactions and constantly refining how search results are found and presented. Quality standards could grow to become more significant and more impactful, eventually targeting disinformation and inaccurate content.
We could also see the development of more interactive forms of search, such as the development of advanced chatbots that can work with users to help them find what they’re looking for. Gesture-based search and other advanced forms of input could also catch on.
But we also need to recognize that novel forms of technological advancement are often fast, and so novel they’re unrecognizable. While Google keeps making iterative improvements and taking baby steps, we could see the next leap forward in search from a young, agile competitor – with a model for online search we’ve never even considered.
In any case, online search remains an important technological staple of the modern world, and it’s come a long way from its humble beginnings. Whatever the future holds in store for search, it’s bound to be amazing.
Image Credit: christina morillo; pexels
Fintech Kennek raises $12.5M seed round to digitize lending
London-based fintech startup Kennek has raised $12.5 million in seed funding to expand its lending operating system.
According to an Oct. 10 tech.eu report, the round was led by HV Capital and included participation from Dutch Founders Fund, AlbionVC, FFVC, Plug & Play Ventures, and Syndicate One. Kennek offers software-as-a-service tools to help non-bank lenders streamline their operations using open banking, open finance, and payments.
The platform aims to automate time-consuming manual tasks and consolidate fragmented data to simplify lending. Xavier De Pauw, founder of Kennek said:
“Until kennek, lenders had to devote countless hours to menial operational tasks and deal with jumbled and hard-coded data – which makes every other part of lending a headache. As former lenders ourselves, we lived and breathed these frustrations, and built kennek to make them a thing of the past.”
The company said the latest funding round was oversubscribed and closed quickly despite the challenging fundraising environment. The new capital will be used to expand Kennek’s engineering team and strengthen its market position in the UK while exploring expansion into other European markets. Barbod Namini, Partner at lead investor HV Capital, commented on the investment:
“Kennek has developed an ambitious and genuinely unique proposition which we think can be the foundation of the entire alternative lending space. […] It is a complicated market and a solution that brings together all information and stakeholders onto a single platform is highly compelling for both lenders & the ecosystem as a whole.”
The fintech lending space has grown rapidly in recent years, but many lenders still rely on legacy systems and manual processes that limit efficiency and scalability. Kennek aims to leverage open banking and data integration to provide lenders with a more streamlined, automated lending experience.
The seed funding will allow the London-based startup to continue developing its platform and expanding its team to meet demand from non-bank lenders looking to digitize operations. Kennek’s focus on the UK and Europe also comes amid rising adoption of open banking and open finance in the regions.
Featured Image Credit: Photo from Kennek.io; Thank you!
Fortune 500’s race for generative AI breakthroughs
As excitement around generative AI grows, Fortune 500 companies, including Goldman Sachs, are carefully examining the possible applications of this technology. A recent survey of U.S. executives indicated that 60% believe generative AI will substantially impact their businesses in the long term. However, they anticipate a one to two-year timeframe before implementing their initial solutions. This optimism stems from the potential of generative AI to revolutionize various aspects of businesses, from enhancing customer experiences to optimizing internal processes. In the short term, companies will likely focus on pilot projects and experimentation, gradually integrating generative AI into their operations as they witness its positive influence on efficiency and profitability.
Goldman Sachs’ Cautious Approach to Implementing Generative AI
In a recent interview, Goldman Sachs CIO Marco Argenti revealed that the firm has not yet implemented any generative AI use cases. Instead, the company focuses on experimentation and setting high standards before adopting the technology. Argenti recognized the desire for outcomes in areas like developer and operational efficiency but emphasized ensuring precision before putting experimental AI use cases into production.
According to Argenti, striking the right balance between driving innovation and maintaining accuracy is crucial for successfully integrating generative AI within the firm. Goldman Sachs intends to continue exploring this emerging technology’s potential benefits and applications while diligently assessing risks to ensure it meets the company’s stringent quality standards.
One possible application for Goldman Sachs is in software development, where the company has observed a 20-40% productivity increase during its trials. The goal is for 1,000 developers to utilize generative AI tools by year’s end. However, Argenti emphasized that a well-defined expectation of return on investment is necessary before fully integrating generative AI into production.
To achieve this, the company plans to implement a systematic and strategic approach to adopting generative AI, ensuring that it complements and enhances the skills of its developers. Additionally, Goldman Sachs intends to evaluate the long-term impact of generative AI on their software development processes and the overall quality of the applications being developed.
Goldman Sachs’ approach to AI implementation goes beyond merely executing models. The firm has created a platform encompassing technical, legal, and compliance assessments to filter out improper content and keep track of all interactions. This comprehensive system ensures seamless integration of artificial intelligence in operations while adhering to regulatory standards and maintaining client confidentiality. Moreover, the platform continuously improves and adapts its algorithms, allowing Goldman Sachs to stay at the forefront of technology and offer its clients the most efficient and secure services.
Featured Image Credit: Photo by Google DeepMind; Pexels; Thank you!
UK seizes web3 opportunity simplifying crypto regulations
As Web3 companies increasingly consider leaving the United States due to regulatory ambiguity, the United Kingdom must simplify its cryptocurrency regulations to attract these businesses. The conservative think tank Policy Exchange recently released a report detailing ten suggestions for improving Web3 regulation in the country. Among the recommendations are reducing liability for token holders in decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) and encouraging the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to adopt alternative Know Your Customer (KYC) methodologies, such as digital identities and blockchain analytics tools. These suggestions aim to position the UK as a hub for Web3 innovation and attract blockchain-based businesses looking for a more conducive regulatory environment.
Streamlining Cryptocurrency Regulations for Innovation
To make it easier for emerging Web3 companies to navigate existing legal frameworks and contribute to the UK’s digital economy growth, the government must streamline cryptocurrency regulations and adopt forward-looking approaches. By making the regulatory landscape clear and straightforward, the UK can create an environment that fosters innovation, growth, and competitiveness in the global fintech industry.
The Policy Exchange report also recommends not weakening self-hosted wallets or treating proof-of-stake (PoS) services as financial services. This approach aims to protect the fundamental principles of decentralization and user autonomy while strongly emphasizing security and regulatory compliance. By doing so, the UK can nurture an environment that encourages innovation and the continued growth of blockchain technology.
Despite recent strict measures by UK authorities, such as His Majesty’s Treasury and the FCA, toward the digital assets sector, the proposed changes in the Policy Exchange report strive to make the UK a more attractive location for Web3 enterprises. By adopting these suggestions, the UK can demonstrate its commitment to fostering innovation in the rapidly evolving blockchain and cryptocurrency industries while ensuring a robust and transparent regulatory environment.
The ongoing uncertainty surrounding cryptocurrency regulations in various countries has prompted Web3 companies to explore alternative jurisdictions with more precise legal frameworks. As the United States grapples with regulatory ambiguity, the United Kingdom can position itself as a hub for Web3 innovation by simplifying and streamlining its cryptocurrency regulations.
Featured Image Credit: Photo by Jonathan Borba; Pexels; Thank you!