Internet search engines seem to be working well enough. There are plenty of choices. So why would an entrepreneur think people will want yet another one? This one has a twist. Librarians.
Librarians and search engines: It’s been something of a love-hate relationship. In 1997, librarians were early advocates for a then-new search engine called Google. Page rank spoke to us, and we could explain it well. Then Google’s success had the public questioning whether libraries mattered anymore. Librarians felt challenged to defend their relevance. We’ve learned to work with and alongside Internet search engines, but still look for our opportunities to point out why librarians are better. Justin Wohlstadter is a technology entrepreneur who thinks librarians and search engines could be a match made in heaven. That’s why he’s doing something we might think is a bit crazy: He’s started a brand new search engine and he wants librarians to help make it work better than anything that’s out there right now—even Google.
I met with Wohlstadter in Chicago during the American Library Association (ALA) Midwinter conference. He is the founder and CEO of Wonder, and his resume is an impressive listing of technology ventures. That may be why he was named to Forbes magazine’s “30 under 30″ in Media. When we talked I discovered that Wohlstadter’s real passion is rooted in his master’s degree research on the future of education. He believes technology can help improve web search, but it can only take us so far. To really enhance knowledge discovery we need to add a human element to the search process. When Wohlstadter shared his ideas, it did strike me as vaguely reminiscent of early Internet attempts by librarians to catalog or index the content and evaluate it—good efforts that eventually fell by the wayside. Wonder is Wohlstadter’s implementation of an old idea applied to an advanced technology landscape: introducing human mediators to the discovery process. But will it work? Are Internet search behaviors now too entrenched to allow for Wonder? I had the opportunity to ask Wohlstadter some questions and share his responses here.