A Chinese startup has set out to make search engines a powerful tool for personalised discovery by allowing chance to play a part in the process.

Personalisation and Serendipity Central to New Generation of Search Engines?

At the present time, Internet search engines will provide exactly the same list of suggestions to everyone who types in the same key word at a given moment. But do the search results correspond exactly to what each person who launched the request was looking for? Not necessarily. “A key word or a tag doesn’t always mean the same thing to everyone,” points out Tingyun Li, co-founder of Taguage. This Chinese startup is aiming to revolutionise the way search engines work by introducing not only greater personalisation but, even more interestingly, an element of chance. To achieve this, Taguage is basing its approach on a product that it initially developed: a note-taking tool which enables every user, once s/he has finished saving a text, to generate a heuristic mind map made up of key words.

Transforming notes into heuristic mind maps

Li explains the tool in more detail: “The closer the tag is to the text content, the nearer the centre of the map it will be placed, but other associated terms are also suggested.” The service works along the same lines as with notes from a brainstorming session, in the sense that it allows users to spot underlying connections in their thoughts that they might not otherwise have consciously discovered. So what has this to do with search engines? Well, in a month’s time, Taguage subscribers will see a new service come on stream.  Called Tag Gravity, it will not only post search results based on the key words that appear in their notes but will go further, making wider suggestions linked to the terms orginally searched for, with a view to engendering those happy chance discoveries that are termed ‘serendipity’. “The current logic of search engines is to find what people are looking for, but what about when you don’t really know exactly what it is you need? After all, you don’t know what you don’t know,” Li points out.

A ‘personalised discovery’ engine

Instead of calling this technology a search engine, Li Ting Yun prefers to call it a ‘discovery engine’. Another added feature is that when a user has entered a word, s/he can share the process with a friend or acquaintance and get their reaction to the results posted. As regards the note-taking tool on which the new approach is based, Li explains that “in future we’re looking to add a function which will enable people to save or delete tags that the system suggests.” In this way the user will be able to ‘teach’ the software about his/her way of thinking and the areas that s/he is particularly interested in. “We can see that some people think in a structured way while others think more freely. So the process of suggesting tags by means of text analysis should not remain mechanical, it should become more human and emotional,” underlines the Taguage founder.


By Ruolin Yang