Gartner Blog Network

Search is a Waste of Time

by Anthony J. Bradley  |  May 28, 2009  |  10 Comments

Let’s face it, searching is mostly a waste of time. I don’t like searching the house for my keys, I don’t like searching my closet for the right shirt, and I don’t like searching my systems (or the Web) for information. All of these are a waste of my time.

Let’s examine information search. So I’m getting some work done in some electronic form, say writing this blog, and I realize that I am in need of some information. Now I have to go out to another application (search engine) try to find what I’m looking for, and then transfer that information back to the application I was working in. Does this seem like a good use of time? Not to me. I want the information I need delivered to me when I need it and where I need it. I don’t want to have to look for it. Do you? Then let’s end the search madness and start pushing for something more. This is, for me, the best use case for the semantic Web. Understand what I’m doing and proactively deliver to me the information I need. Of course this requires all applications to be context aware and semantic-enabled (add this to the enablement list; web-enabled, service-enabled, WOA-enabled, mashup-enabled, and social media-enabled).

Some technology providers are getting it. A 2008 Gartner Cool Vendor System One out of Vienna, Austria ( ) was one of the first I’d seen that delivers content in the context of work by combining a wiki offering with a underlying semantic engine that exposed content and people relevant to what the author was writing. GroupSwim ( is a Gartner 2009 Cool Vendor that employs semantic constructs to identify relevant community assets and alleviate the search burden. I also recently met with Exalead ( a “search based applications” technology provider. They have an interesting spin. Why not build purposeful applications that capitalize on information discovery. I use information discovery because I don’t want to lean too heavily on search. With Exalead search is the entry point but the technology also enables rich surfing in a RESTful manner thus enhancing the application navigation experience. Some of you who have heard me speak about Web oriented architecture and RESTful applications know that I use Wikipedia as an example (BTW, notice how RESTful this post is). People land on a Wikipedia page through search but then can experience a rich surfing experience in their knowledge acquisition endeavors. Exalead endeavors to provide all of us with that type of experience around solving business problems.

I know I have harped before about an enterprise over reliance on search as their information discoverability capability with my 5 Ss of discoverability (search, subsetting, surfing, subscribing, and social). I think I might now need to add a 6th S for semantic.

Can you imagine high quality and relevant information delivered to you when and where you need it or even applications that anticipate your information needs? There would be no need to search. What a wonderful world that would be.

Category: aplication-architecture  

Tags: discoverability  search  

Anthony J. Bradley
10 years at Gartner
26 years in IT

Anthony J. Bradley is a group vice president in Gartner Research responsible for the research content that Gartner publishes through its three internet businesses (, and These responsibilities include creating and leading the research organization and infrastructure needed for the strategy formulation, planning, research, creation, editing, production and distribution of the content. He has four global teams of highly talented people who are advancing towards the world's greatest destination for content on how small businesses succeed through information technology.

Thoughts on Search is a Waste of Time

  1. Whit Andrews says:

    Anthony, search is only a waste of time when it is excessive. Our research shows that people spend about 5 hours a week looking for information to do their jobs. We can’t zero that. We can, though, try to help people make the most of it.

    What makes search astonishing is its ability to educate you. When you did the last search you did on the Web, didn’t you learn something about the interconnectedness of concepts and information? On your way to accomplish a task, weren’t you able to understand the task better? The journey is always part of the destination.

  2. Ana Hervas says:

    Put a good special librarian in your life (in your job) and you’ll see..
    I don’t know why ends users of information have to do the work of the librarians and suffer for it. I try every day to do these that you call “wonderfull world” in my daily work and Telefonica pay me for it.

  3. Anthony Bradley says:

    Whit, it would be great to know how many information needs go unmet because people are not willing to search for it but instead just power through what they are doing without it. My point is that search is almost always excessive :-) I want the information to come to me. I find that surfing is more educational than surfing. I totally agree that search will never and should never go to zero. There is a very valuable place for it. But right now I think we are over reliant and I think the future will have us searching less but finding more.

    Ana, librarians have an important role. I remember when working on the Army AKO project that the army wanted an ontology for all the Army’s data. At the time they had about 50 librarians on this task. As you can imagine it wasn’t very effective. They would have required a second Army of librarians. This was back in 2005. I talked to them about a social ontology (tag driven) that was nurtured by a team of librarians. Meaning that the librarians made ontological connections between terms (synonym, antonym, parent, child, etc.). There is a role for librarians but they can’t do it on their own.

  4. Anthony Bradley says:

    Sorry, I meant that surfing is more educational that searching.

  5. Here’s a bit of a history lesson… the web was conceived as a collection of documents with hyperlinks to define relationships and guide users through a fluid path of relevance and discovery. With the advent of search engines, commercial interests began to hijack this vision. Look at any popular web site today and you’ll find only two kinds of hyperlinks — paid ones and self-referential ones (that keep traffic from leaving the domain). The only relevant links come from search engines. So instead of deeply browsing the web, you search and click endlessly‚Ķ friction-free information and serendipitous discovery fall by the wayside.

    The web will remain captive to publishers until users exercise control over the hyperlinks that define the web’s structure.

    …and here’s the propaganda… MashLogic lets you Take Back the Web! Based on your preferences and the context of the page, MashLogic adds personalized links to relevant terms. For example, if you are interested in music, we will automatically detect the names of artists and bands on a web page, and add links through which you can stream music, watch videos, or purchase merchandise.

  6. Anthony Bradley says:

    Ranjit, your history lesson is indeed history. You describe web 1.0 and I agree with that. But if you look at the blogosphere as an example you can easily and very meaningfully surf hyperlinks that cross multiple blog sites. Wikipedia is also a great example of meaningful surfing both within wikipedia and out to source sites. Web 2.0 is making the www much better for deep and robust information discovery via hyperlink surfing.

    I would also argue that search doesn’t save you from shallow and meaningless surfing. If I go to google and type in a search string that returns a million results then I start surfing to a result (nope not what I need), surf back to the google results page, surf to another result (nope, not what I need), go back to the google page (maybe change my search string), surf to another result (nope, not what I need), repeat loop many times. This is surfing but very superficial surfing courtesy of the search engine.

  7. Whit Andrews says:

    Anthony, when you use Wikipedia, how is it you find what you want? You browse down through alphabetic links, I’m thinking. No — you probably go subject by subject through the hierarchical taxonomy, right? Or is there another method you use…?

    And when you use Wikipedia, chances are that whatever you’re looking for could have floated to you across the network by…how would it know you wanted it, again?

    Hmmm. Just askin’.

  8. Anthony Bradley says:

    I usually do use search to find the point of entry in Wikipedia but then find that I surf the hyperlinks in the main content of the page (v. the menu navigation links) to explore and gain greater knowledge on the topic I seek. Wikipedia is a rich RESTful application that enables valuable surfing.

    Rather than have to search to find the entry point I would much rather have the content exposed to me as I was working, say, on a document. A semantic engine “understands” what I’m doing by analyzing the text I’m writing and exposes to me related content and people. This is the premise of System One who I referenced above.

  9. […] Search is a Waste of Time: (ux search ) […]

  10. We have devloped a serach automation and download software to save time.

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