One of the things that we’re hearing about Microsoft’s forthcoming search engine is that it will focus on “natural language queries,” as did, say, Ask Jeeves. The thing about natural language query is that you need a user-model. For instance, at iMind we could analyze the educational objectives of lesson plans because we knew “this lesson plan for 9th grade American History is from this teacher in this school district” and we had already spent gazillions of cycles preprocessing all of that context into a model that had “just” a couple of hundred dimensions. I don’t think you can do relevant English-language query without a user model: “What’s the best movie of the year?” “What’s the most important news of the day?” “Why is my computer crashing?”
Is general-purpose English-language query achievable or is it destined to be the next Microsoft Bob or, if not Bob, the next Clippy (hated by some, appreciated by some)? If Web search could be dramatically improved by a server-side user model (essentially, “We store every query you ever enter and induce that you’re a programming geek”) would that be acceptable?