Multi-constraint Search: Emerging

Lately, I’m bumping into more and more projects that aim to automate and handle complex consumer web searches and transactions, like booking travel for a multi-leg overseas trip with lots of family members who have varying needs. (You could think of these services as multi-constraint search.) To wit:

* At the Web 2.0 Summit last fall, I had lunch with a woman from Sun R&D whose team is working on processing systems that will have the power and intelligence to quickly handle queries with a lot of parameters.

* Rearden Commerce, one of the Web 2.0 Expo exhibitors, has a service that “helps employees purchase and schedule services.” It does so in part by using a restricted network of vendors, which isn’t terribly revolutionary (see: managed health care), but on the user side, it uses personal info and parameters you give it in order to find appropriate transactions.

* I met the other day with Anupriya Ankolekar, whose PhD work is on the potential intersection of the semantic web and web 2.0 (pleasant surprise: the discussion was nearly jargon-free). She noted that in semantic web communities, it’s increasingly thought that one of the best ways to help people understand the idea and power of the semantic web will be to have services that handle complicated search-and-transaction processes for you–and that a handful of such projects are under way.

All of the examples I’ve seen so far have focused on consumer applications, but presumably, these services are in development–and probably further along–for B2B apps.

Nat notes that in computer science, “constraint satisfaction” is the the term used for the underlying process in a multi-parameter search. That’s useful to know, but neither “constraint satisfaction” nor “complex search and transaction” seem like the right name for this emerging class of services. Does anyone know of a term in use or have a great suggestion? And do you have additional examples of projects underway?