Old and New Clash at Search Engine Conference

Chris Sherman describes the whirlwind proceedings at the Fifth Annual Search Engine Conference at this Information Today article. He assures us that the sessions generated more heat than light.

A scaled-down version of the heroic struggle between the so-called old and new economies was played out to the delight and edification of the 300 attendees of the fifth annual Search Engine Meeting, held at the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston on April 10 and 11. Though the talks and panel discussions focused on familiar topics such as information retrieval research, search engine design, and usability issues, a major subtext of the conference was about valuation—specifically, the collision of values between researchers and academics insisting on upholding traditional, formal methods, and search engine entrepreneurs scrambling to keep their businesses alive and thriving at Internet speed.

Google CEO Larry Page had the most heated response to the TREC advocates, at one point calling the entire formal evaluation process “irrelevant.” “I don’t believe that binary relevance rankings are useful,” said Page. He’s convinced that surviving and thriving in the crucible of the Web is sufficient measure of success. “All of us could think of things to do that would make things better if you gave us infinite resources,” he said.

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