Why is Relevance Only in Search?

When I do a Web search, Yahoo!, Google, and a couple other companies do an amazingly sophisticated job of showing me a page that has a finely tuned blend of information — matching on words, ranking based on inbound and outbound links, social filtering, and many small adjustments for the corpus I’m looking within. That is, they produce a page with a great deal of relevance. Over and over again, this generates an expectation that when I need some information, a Web search is a good way to go. It’s hard to remember, but just a few years ago that wasn’t true. We had the Web, and all the fancy ideas, but nothing nearly as good for general usefulness as Web search has become.
Unfortunately, the rest of the Web was left behind. The general information sites, the catalog sites, the entertainment sites, the message-boards, instant messaging, even email services have not benefited from the algorithmic approach to making pages. They remain stuck in old, unsatisfying and primitive ghettos. John Battelle, in his book The Search outlined one or two scenarios that would take networked services into the same kinds of mechanisms that Web search provides, but there doesn’t seem to be much talk about increasing the amount of relevance for the ordinary mass of sites out there.
Part of this I am sure is because doing Web search requires a massive amount of horsepower, and no one can justify spending ten-times what everyone else spends on hardware and software to sell products. But part of it I think is just that most of the more pedestrian sites out there are direct translations of offline resources, whereas with search, there is no equivalent that is a directly analogous experience, and there are no existing expectations to get past.
But of course there is a big opportunity there. In general, I don’t mind shopping among just major brands, or reading a mass of feeds from the more popular sites, or trying a few different popular albums to see if there is one I like. But, as has been flogged to death, the biggest opportunity is in giving me access to the

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