Surf Canyon is proud to be a sponsor of the Fifth Annual International Conference on Web Search and Data Mining (WSDM 2012). After having our research selected for oral presentation at SIGIR ’09 in Boston and then having attended other academic conferences, we have a strong appreciation for the effort and dedication required to produce high-quality research in the very challenging field of search. While we didn’t have a paper to submit this time, we will naturally be attending the conference and look forward to the presentations as well as connecting, and reconnecting, with talented researches from around the world.
Mark Cramer, CEO of Surf Canyon, has been selected to present at the exclusive Search Insider Summit to be held at the South Sea Island Resort on Captiva Island, Florida from May 4 to 7. The semiannual event is chaired by Gord Hotchkiss, CEO of Enquiro, and “brings the best minds in the search industry together to share cutting edge information and experience.”
In the session “Reinventing the Search Experience,” between Microsoft, Yahoo! and Google, Mark will be talking about “Search as a Conversation – The End of the ‘Stateless’ Results Page.” Having dynamically re-ranked over 1.3 billion queries over the past few years, Surf Canyon is uniquely positioned to discuss the potential of one of the most significant relevance-enhancing innovations since PageRank.
[Update 5/10/11] The video of Mark’s presentation is now online:
For the past 40 years since the inception of search, the way it’s worked is this: user enters a query, that query is matched to an index of documents, tremendous activity is deployed to try to determine the relevancies of those different documents, and a search result set is produced. But that search result set is static. There’s an order to those results. They go from 1 to 10 and then 11 to 50 million, and that order does not change. It’s stateless.
What we have been doing for the past few years is essentially applying state to the search page in order to make the results dynamic. And if you consider “dynamic” to be something resembling a conversation in the sense that the search result page is actually responding to every input from the user to alter the content on the fly, then I think that’s an interesting way of looking at searching.
As the fans of Surf Canyon are already aware, last year we beat out Google, Yahoo! and Bing to win the 2010 About.com Reader’s Choice Award for “Best Search Engine.” For 2011 we are proud to announce that we have been nominated in the category “Best Overall Add-on (Non-security).”
The competition, however, is extremely stiff:
AdBlock Plus – A perennial favorite, it has been download from Mozilla over 110 million times, has over 2000 user comments and has been the most popular add-on for as long as we can remember.
DownThemAll! – With over 40 million downloads, this is another favorite for people who want to download videos.
Greasemonkey – Surf Canyon started out as a Greasemonkey script. With over 40 million downloads, too, not only are we fans, but we owe this one a debt of gratitude.
StumbleUpon – Funded by some of the most prominent angels in Silicon Valley, acquired by eBay for $75MM in 2007 and then sold back to its founders in 2009, this hugely popular add-on is also one of the most financially successful add-ons ever.
There has been a bit of discussion recently about how content farms (websites that use low-cost labor to churn out pages of little or mediocre quality) are polluting the results on the major search engines. Blekko, a new search engine that enables users to slash the web, has been among those leading the charge by pledging to remove content farm sites from its results. Blekko reports that 1 million new spam pages, which may harm users, steal publisher traffic and defraud advertisers, are created every hour.
As of last Thursday, Surf Canyon now offers users the option of having these same content farm results automatically removed from their searches on Google, Bing and Yahoo!. Simply download the latest version of our browser extension and then either click the button here or go to the Domains tab at my.SurfCanyon.com, select the “Remove content farm sites from the search page” box and save your preference. It is that easy.
ProductivityPortfolio blogged about this new feature this morning. It is unclear how they discovered the capability since we are only announcing it right now, but good for them!
Note: The title of this post is from the Monty Python sketch.
[Update 2/16/11 - David Harry, with whom we spoke previously, references Mark Cramer and offers his take on the content farm situation in the latest issue of Search Engine Land.]
On December 31st we bid farewell to our spacious, wood-floored offices above a silk shop near downtown Oakland for a brand new set of digs at a co-working facility in San Francisco near 10th and Mission. The new space is excellent, the people are friendly and we’re excited about the next chapter in our journey.
Additionally, for the month of January, we welcome an intern from MIT: Connie Chan. She’ll be assisting with development before returning to Boston to continue her junior year of studies in Computer Science.
The Surf Canyon team, from left to right: Mike Wertheim, Mark Cramer, Connie Chan and Keith Flippin
“It is common for information retrieval research to focus either on relevance estimation or user interface design, but rarely both simultaneously. However, for many tasks, it can be useful to model both jointly… One major limitation of result diversification over static rankings is that it sacrifices recall in favor of some minimal amount of utility for all usage intents – such a limitation could be dealt with by moving towards more dynamic interfaces.
Consider the example interface shown in Figure 4.8, which is inspired by and adapted from the SurfCanyon.com search engine … by clicking or mousing over a result that matches the user’s intent, additional indented results are inserted into the original ranking… This interaction is quite natural, since the process resembles navigating a dropdown menu and since users are already familiar with result indentation. And yet even this one additional degree of freedom in content display can offer tremendous benefits…”
Lastly, the team at Cornell recently drafted a brilliant paper, entitled “Dynamic Ranked Retrieval,” which dives deep into the study of real-time implicit ranking and offers statistical support for the “tremendous benefits” described above. It has been accepted for publication at WSDM 2011. While not yet public (we’ll post here when it is), we’ve been given permission to offer a sneak preview from the introduction (emphasis added):
“… most queries are ambiguous at some level. For such queries, there is often no single ranking that satisfies all users and query intents. While result diversification aims to provide a “compromise ranking” that provides some utility for all intents, diversification necessarily sacrifices recall…
The key idea is to make the ranking “dynamic” – namely, allowing it to change in response to user interactions after the query was issued.
From the user’s perspective, this may look as illustrated in Figure 1. This interface is inspired by and adapted from the SurfCanyon.com search engine…”
At the 19th Irish Conference on Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive Science (AICS 2008), researchers from the School of Computer Science and Informatics at the University College Dublin, Ireland, published a fascinating research paper entitled “A recommender system approach to enhance web search and query formulation.”
They begin by observing that “the traditional search interface has remained relatively static” before going on to describe “a recommender system approach to Web search which allows users to dynamically interact with the result-space that is of interest to them,” which they see as “an overlay interface as a complement to an existing search engine.” This will sound familiar to anyone who has used Surf Canyon, which the researchers acknowledge (emphasis added):
“… Surf Canyon is an excellent example of a next-generation approach, and allows users to interact with results returned by existing engines; in short, users can select a result and receive recommendations drawn from related results that appear further down a result list. Surf Canyon launched in the latter stages of our own research and presents an interface similar to what is proposed here.”
While there are significant differences in terms or implementation, their results are similar to what Surf Canyon has demonstrated:
“A key question is whether the resulting recommendations were found to be relevant. In fact… at least one of the 3 recommended results was selected approximately 25% of the time, a very significant indicator of relevance…”
Alexia Tsotsis at TechCrunch has posted an article about the new “Fully Dynamic” search being offered by Surf Canyon. As users know, Surf Canyon has been making search dynamic for some time. Recently, however, with the launch of Instant, Google has also started to make search dynamic. As explained by Mark Cramer, CEO of Surf Canyon, the two are not only compatible, but complimentary:
“Dynamic” is the future of search and we feel we have a critical element to add to that. Instant makes the page faster (dynamically updating the SERP after every key press), however, our innovation makes it more relevant (dynamically updating the order of results after every mouse click). The two together (Google Instant + Surf Canyon) make the search experience “Fully Dynamic.”
There are presently two ways to experience Fully Dynamic search: at the newly launched instant.SurfCanyon.com and, as always, by navigating over to Google after downloading our browser extension.
Francis Pisani, the highly-esteemed independent journalist who authors a technology blog for Le Monde and who also recently reviewed Surf Canyon for El Universo, chose to select Surf Canyon as the “Pick of the Week” for the France24 program Technophile, which was recorded in both English and French.
The portion about Surf Canyon begins at the 6m55s mark. Mr. Pisani starts with “Pick of the Week, use it, it’s called Surf Canyon,” before continuing with a demonstration and then:
This is artificial intelligence and [it makes your searches] more efficient.
The French version of the video is also available with the segment about Surf Canyon starting at the 6m37s mark.
Surf Canyon develops real-time personalized search. By transforming static lists of links into dynamic search pages that automatically re-rank results "on the fly," users are able to more quickly and easily find pertinent information buried among the irrelevant results, significantly accelerating the search process.