Robert has a rather long response to my "what's the context" post. I left a comment over there, but I figured I'd just toss that here:
"Here's a clue. If a human can find a few manufacturers within a few minutes, then a search engine should be able to find them even faster. After all, humans design search engines and the algorithm I used to find the Sony, Panasonic, and Samsung site can be replicated pretty easily."
The point of my post was the lack of context in a one word search. You might want manufacturers; someone else might want a definition; a third person might wanta set of reviews. Short of you providing more context, I have no idea why you think a search engine should be able to figure out what you want. Now, that context could come from more terms - it might come from the engine tracking your searches over time and learning about what you like.
I'm not questioning your motives; I am questioning the assumptions you make. The assumption looks an awful lot like "I want this kind of result; everyone will want the same thing; therefore (insert engine provider here) should provide that result no matter what I enter".
That seems an awful lot like the blind spot Dave Winer has about how aggregators should work. He likes a "river of news" sort of view, and he translates that personal preference into "that's how all tools should work". Which is how your post looked to me.
Given a one word search, how is the back end (without some kind of historical tracking to give it context) supposed to know what sort of results you want from an ambiguous entry?
I don't have any notion that "search is done", or that the engines have results that are as good as they are going to get. What I am saying is that context is a critical component of any answer - machine generated or human generated. How many times have you answered the wrong question? I've done it a lot, and it happens to me because of a simple failing on my part - I have a tendency to assume the question I've been asked before I hear the whole thing, and I then respond to the assumption. In my experience, lots of people do that.
That failing is essentially a lack of context - in that case, it's not that context is not provided, but that I'm not hearing it. Engines have a similar problem though. You sit down to do a search with a whole set of related information (context) in your head, but you type one word (or acronym) into the search engine. It comes back with results, and you get upset that they don't match your expectations. That's because the engine didn't have access to all that context you have, but didn't (and in many cases could not have) provided.
Basing assumptions on Ray Kurzweil's assumptions about human/computer merging are too much of a leap for me, but Robert goes right out and makes it:
Another fairly common argument is to ask me to go around asking other human beings "HDTV?" and see what they say. That's lame. We don't use search engines the same way we use friends. And, anyway, if I went into an HDTV store, I'd ask "do you have a list of HDTV manufacturers?" and they'd be able to provide me a list right away. At my camera store I had a list of all the camera brands. In fact, I often let customers see my wholesale catalogs. That info is out there, just not available in search engines. Reading CNET tonight I see that Google's CEO said it might be 300 years before Google indexes all the world's information and makes it searchable. Now THAT'S what I'm talking about! Although, 300 years? I doubt it. I suspect we'll get to 99.9 % within 30 years. Eric Schmidt should read Ray Kurzweil's new book, the Singularity is Near, for why. By the way, MSN gives a better result than Google when you search on the Singularity is Near. Here's that result on Google and here's the same search on MSN.
Comparing the results from a (presumably knowledgeable) sales clerk who can assume context based on full sentences and your presence in the store isn't impressive either. Try just walking up to him and saying "HDTV?". Most likely, he'll point to the section of the store that has them - not to a catalog list of providers.