Home Searchology: State of the Union of Search at Google

Searchology: State of the Union of Search at Google

While Google CEO Eric Schmidt is over on the East Coast helping the Washington Post and the New York Times work out how best to make money out of their content, Marissa Mayer, VP of Search Products and User Experience, along with a team of Googlers is in building 40 at the Googleplex giving the press of Silicon Valley an “insider’s perspective on search.”

Google is providing a live webcast of the event, named Searchology, which is scheduled to begin at 10 PDT and conclude at 11.30 PDT after product demos.

Update: We had a chance to speak with Marissa Mayer about the new search features and have posted a three minute video of her describing the products.

Update: Google announced no less than three (!) new products at Searchology today: Search Options, Google Squared, Rich Snippets and a ‘fun’ product: a new Android application called Sky Map. Get all the details below, where we’ve live blogged the event.

Update: See our analysis, Google Search Evolves – But Has Google Finally Lost its Core Focus?

Live blogging starts here

Speaker line up today:

  • Udi Manber, VB Engineering
  • Patrick Riley, Software Engineer
  • Scott Huffman Engineering Director
  • Marissa Mayer, VP, Search Products and User Experience
  • Nundu Janakiram, Associate Product Manager
  • Alex Komoroske, Associate Product Manager
  • Kavi Goel, Product Manager
  • John Taylor, Software Engineer

Udi Manber kicks the event off saying “our job is to do rocket science that will be taken for granted.” But, he adds, “there is still a lot of work to do.”

He continues talking about growth throughout the centuries. “In the 20th century,” he explains, the dream was to conquer nature; I think the 21st centure will be about understanding people.”

“We have made a lot of progress, and you’ll see some more today. But, the most promising advance is that we are starting to ‘understand.'”

“We have very high confidence that this is what you’re looking for. It’s actually hard to do, but it looks easy to you.”

“Search has to be lightening fast, relevant comprehensive fresh, but the main point is that even that is not enough.”

With Google focused on doing the magic so we get instant, relevant and useful results, does this mean we are at the beginning of the real-time Web?

He ends by juggling three eggs. Then saying “I wanted to highlight that things are not always what they seem,” he throws the eggs, and they bounce off the stage.

Semantic search?

Patrick Riley begins by saying “it’s all about user intent.” By tweaking the algorithm, and operating at scale, Google can update the search results page so that it offers results for not only the query, but for what Google thinks the query could be should what you typed into the search box be incorrect.

“We know that everything we do on the search results page, and we really care about every pixel on that page,” Riley says.

“We liked the ‘did you mean’ link so did not want to take it off.” Instead they expanded it.

Mobile search

Scott Huffman talks about mobile search: “There are a few things that make mobile search interesting,” he begins. “Mobile search is growing fast — faster than search for the PC.”

“Another thing that makes mobile search interesting is the challenge of devices,” he adds. “There are hundreds of them, with widely varying capabilities. Search is generally difficult to use… The third thing inherently interesting about mobile search is location.”

“Our dream,” he said, “is that people use mobile search every day because it is”:

  • Complete: all of Google is on my device; easy access; “one click” ability to dig deeper;
  • Easy: effortless to search and get answers.
  • Local: knows where I am and acts accordingly

One thing that isn’t out yet but should be in the next few weeks is the ability to share your desktop environment with your mobile environment.

Universal Search and a Brand New Search Feature

Marissa Mayer begins with an anecdotal story about a friend of hers who needed to tie a bow tie and was convinced that by searching on Google he would be greeted with incomprehensible information. As it turned out, he told Mayer, the results were brilliant; he got videos, diagrams, and a lot of explanations.

“This is Universal Search,” Mayer said, “which we introduced a couple of years ago.”

Universal search began with images, maps, books, news, and video. Mayer explained that over the past two years, Google has added products and blog search.

“Universal Search now runs in 174 countries,” said Mayer, and it’s getting better.

“The Universal Search experience is displayed in a ‘bento box’ environment,” Mayer said.

Google also now has “location-less” Universal Search. That is, you don’t need to include your location; Google works that out by either your profile or your cookie information.

In November, Google introduced SearchWiki: the ability to add, annotate, and remove results to “really make the page your own.”

But with Search Wiki and Universal Search, there is more media and more interaction. Google wants to help you find more and do more with it.

The hard, unsolved problems in search are:

  • Finding the most recent info
  • Expressing what you want just one type of result
  • Accessing which results are best
  • Knowing what you want
  • Being tied to keywords can be limiting

“We need a slice-and-dice mechanism,” Mayer explained, something that will help you find a particular type of result.

Search Options

As a result, Google today is launching “Search Options,” which, according to Mayer, is going live as she speaks. With Search Options, the results page gives you more options and allows you to show and hide options. It ultimately provides more useful results and a better search experience.

Google Squared

Another product Google is launching and will be available in Google Labs later this month is called “Google Squared,” which offers data extraction (using sentiment analysis) for values and facts and that includes rich information. Could this be similar to what we can expect from Wolfram Alpha?

Rich Snippets

A third product announced today is “Rich Snippets,” which will show extra metadata in results — things like user reviews and the cost of products. According to Mayer, “It’s a way for us to enrich our results page and help users make a more informed decision about what is relevant to them.”

New Android App

The last announcement was of a new Android application that looks at stars. Known as “Sky Map,” it was built by John Taylor in his 20% time and will be available on the Android Market later today.

Much like other apps, it allows you to pan, zoom in, and zoom out. What is special about this, asks Mayer? The G1 phone has built-in GPS, so it knows where in the world you are and can produce maps specific to you. Using the accelerometer technology, you can point the device to the stars and see the night sky beyond. Of course (having been announced at Searchology), the app also allows you to search for a star — say, Orion — and then it shows you where to point your device to see that star in your night sky.

Questions and Answers

Question: Will Google start selling semantic keywords?

Marissa Mayer: No plans yet to sell keywords differently. It’s about the data analysis, as opposed to building in the notion of semantics.

Question: Are products launched in all languages?

Udi Manber: Products are extremely internationalized. Everything we do applies all over the world. We have active projects in probably more than 70 languages, and we try to launch at the same time.

More About Google Squared

Mayer: The technology behind it is “totally amazing.” “Google Squared blew me away even though I get jaded over time.” “We are looking for structures on the Web that seem to apply facts and then corroborate the evidence by looking at other pointers. It’s an incredible amount of work.”

Wolfram vs. Google

Manber: “I think I proved that things are not always what they seem, and you need to look at corroborating evidence. It’s not enough to find info; you have to corroborate in many places.”

Regarding Wolfram, “Sergey and I had a demo early on but have been asked to be quiet.”

Mayer: “We at Google are optimistic about the Web. When you see the power of search and the Internet, hopefully we’ll get some signals about which information we can trust. This will help improve the data.”

Q&A (cont’d)

Question: When will Google squared be available?

Mayer: Later this month.

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