Drowning in information? Help is at hand!

The availability of  more and more information clutters our inboxes and flusters our minds, but help is at hand!

Google and Microsoft are both making use of personal information, behaviour and searches to enable our own searches to be focused onto ‘friends and people who might know’.

Waves of information and choice seem to continue to engulf us and we feel as though we are floundering in ever deeper waters. The Internet, laptops and iPads demand our attention; and the new and the special deal stare out at us at every turn – when we are not already answering our mobiles.

In these situations we turn increasingly to those whom we know and in whom we trust. While websites based on communities of interest are appearing, their outpourings clutter up our e-mails, they can be trite, and they often fail to sustain interest. We tend to choose a limited number of blogs that we use as our guides and our advisers. And we attend constantly to Twitter to tell us what might be of interest to us.

Avatars have been promised, so that we can sit back and wait while they ferret their way through the millions of websites that Google brings up, to present to us only the nuggets that we want!  My personal search Guru tells me that Feedly and Flipboard (among many other tools) make selections from content for you and show what are the underlying recommendation systems.

Just now, Microsoft and Google are both vying for our attention with new features on their search engines. When you search Google.com or Bing.com [says the Herald Tribune, May 24], you do not just get a list of Web pages that match your search. Off to the right, where the search results page used to be empty, you now see actual information about the subject of your search, carefully packed into a new, concise, attractive panel.

On Google, for example, the Graph panel displays a tiny dossier, usually drawn from Wikipedia – when you search for a well-known person, or character like Martha Stewart, Benjamin Franklin, Barney the Dinosaur or James Cameron. You get a capsule description, birth and death dates, spouse and children, awards, education, best -known works (books or movies, for example) and the latest Google Plus post, if the person has a Google Plus account – the information apparently drawn from Wikipedia, the CIA, World Factbook, Freebase and Google Books. The bottom of the panel shows what other, similar searches might interest you, based on the search behaviour of fellow Googlephiles. Microsoft is rolling out a similar Snapshot feature, in a similar position – which appears only when you are trying to spend money! It pops up for restaurants movies, hotels, events etc and gives details, including ratings and reservation links.

Bing has a sidebar which houses two lists: the first “Friends who might know” based on their Facebook profiles and on items they have liked (to whom you can send messages); the second “People who might know” – people from Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus and blogs, who have posted recently about your subject. Microsoft says that it will soon add LInkedIn, Foursquare and Quora to the second list.

But Microsoft and Google emphasise that these developments are but the first timid steps into a beautiful future – a future where search pages know what you mean, display exactly the information you want with one click, and even perform tasks for you.

And soon, maybe we will simply be able to ask Siri on our iPhones to do it all for us!

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