Dave Winer published a provocative idea this morning: "Perhaps Google and the other major SEs should have some kind of plug-in architecture that lets us build our own search engine out of components we like."
I am hopeful that among Google, MSN and Yahoo there is at least one major player motivated to listen to Dave on this and built an ecosystem instead of a farm. I subscribe to WSJ.com and it would be incredibly useful to plug that 30 day archive into my search results and to assign it a high pagerank. It would be a win for me, Dow Jones (which owns WSJ.com) and Search Engine X.
My employer subscribes to Lexis Nexis and Factiva. It would be great to plug those in as well.
And I'd be among the first to sign up for a good weblog search plugin, too.
Dave has a long history of pushing social networks over monolithic corporate systems. He pushed Apple to better welcome developers, Microsoft to embrace the Internet, and individual Web users to build a distributed media network through weblogging, just to name a few examples. Treating search engines as a platform is a similar thought of similar -- that is, great -- importance.
If none of the corporate-owned incumbent search engines steps forward on this, I can see an open-source/peer-to-peer infrastructure stepping in to build a pluggable search system. And I predict the newspaper companies, if they are smart, will step forward as the benefactors of this effort, much as IBM has done with Linux. They are threatened by Google/Yahoo hegemony (and their direct competition on news gathering), have widely distributed and in many cases firewalled information repositories that would benefit hugely from a pluggable interface and are cash rich/growth poor.
Finally, I have to say I think search has become social software and we just have not noticed it yet. PageRank is social software in a crude form. The next generation of search will be more sophisticated and will rely on the same sort of systems that drive sites like Slashdot (this means Clay Shirky will get at least one fat job offer from Google if he has not already).