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Faceted Web Search?

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Researchers from Microsoft say it’s very challenging. Google is trying, but there’s a long way to go. And Eric Iverson just wrote me to describe his own preliminary efforts to build faceted search on top of Yahoo! BOSS.

I believe there’s a clearly established business case for faceted search inside the enterprise, for site search (especially for retail and media / publishing sites), even for vertical search on the open web. In all of these cases, relevance-ranked results are insufficient to meet a large subset of users’ more exploratory information needs, and HCIR approaches like faceted search are an easy sell.

But it seems much harder to make this case for general web search. The track record of startups in this space isn’t very encouraging. That could be because no one has done it right, but Clayton Christensen’s theory of disruptive innovation would suggest that a successful entrant wouldn’t have to have parity across the board, but would simply need to win on an underserved market segment. Perhaps the increasing use of faceted search for vertical search is how this process is playing out, and faceted search for general web search may end up being a slow agglomeration of verticals.

I’m curious if others have been pursuing efforts like Eric’s. Are the available APIs powerful enough to prototype your own faceted web search engine? If they aren’t, then is this a potential business opportunity for one of the major (or non-major) search engines to promote innovation by offering an open system? Or, if Yahoo! BOSS already offers such an open system, what should we make of the scale of its impact?

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