Home Google Search Evolves – But Has Google Finally Lost its Core Focus?

Google Search Evolves – But Has Google Finally Lost its Core Focus?

Yesterday at Google’s Searchology event, which we live-blogged, the search market leader announced two significant features to its search product: Search Options and Rich Snippets. It also previewed a new fact-finding search product called Google Squared. The first two features are already live on google.com and they’ve notably extended Google’s core search product. As we sit back and reflect on the meaning of this, one thing is starkly clear: the core Google search experience is now much more than a simple search box on a plain white background, which it was for so long. Just how far has Google evolved its search experience over recent years? And has it become too much of a shift from its core focus? Let’s explore that.

The Evolution of Google Search (in a Nutshell)

The features announced today, and in particular ‘Search Options’, build on Google’s Universal Search announcements of two years ago at the same event. Universal Search integrated search results from across Google’s properties into the main search. It began with images, maps, books, news, and video – and over the past two years it has added products and blog search.

Then last November, Google introduced SearchWiki: the ability to add, annotate, and remove your search results.

So with those two sets of changes alone, Google search added more types of content (including multimedia like video and maps) and some read/write functionality (which Google termed a “wiki”, to the bemusement of the inventor of the wiki).

Today’s announcements are centered around some of the themes in the current era of the Web that we at ReadWriteWeb have been exploring recently: real-time information, adding more meaning to the data (aka Semantic Search), and filtering results. The new features show that Google is adapting to this environment.

Rich Snippets and Google Squared: Google Getting Clever With Data

According to Google, rich snippets “extract and show more useful information from web pages than the preview text that you are used to seeing.” Significantly, Google is using structured data open standards such as microformats and RDFa to power the rich snippets feature. It is inviting publishers to mark up their HTML and webmasters can find more details here.

Image from Matt Cutts

At Searchology Google showed a preview of a new tool called Google Squared. This as yet unreleased product has already been compared to Wolfram Alpha, a “computational knowledge engine” that we reviewed in detail recently. Google Squared doesn’t find webpages, like the normal Google search. Instead it “automatically fetches and organizes facts from across the Internet.” The product will be added to Google Labs later this month.

Our take: Both Rich Snippets and Google Squared show that Google is getting smarter about data, adding more context (Rich Snippets) and new ways of searching and organizing (Squared).

Search Options: More Options, More Clutter?

Now let’s look at Search Options, because it is the most immediately useful of the announcements today. And more than the other two, it shows how much the core Google search experience has evolved. The 2-minute video from Google below is a good introduction to the feature.

The screenshot below shows Search Options in action. The highlighted part shows the new link.

When the user clicks on ‘Show options…’, a sidebar pops out on the left with a variety of options including multimedia, reviews and time-based views:

Our take: When you ponder the above screenshots, bear in mind the Google experience of 10 years ago. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realise that there are now significantly more options, links, on the Google results page. The ramifications of that are pretty clear: Google has evolved far beyond the simple 1-feature product it once was. Simplicity and focus on the core search experience were the principle reasons for Google’s success. It’s why Google usurped the bulky search-portals of the Web 1.0 era – Lycos, Yahoo, Excite, and their ilk.

Nevertheless, Google has been careful to gradually and relatively slowly introduce these new features to its core search experience. And the actual webpage search links still dominate most of the page real estate in the above screenshots.

The big question is: will making the core search experience more complex make Google more vulnerable to competitors that actually want to compete on features? Microsoft for instance is constantly trumpeting its next generation search plans. Google search got so popular precisely because of its laser focus on solid, simple good search results.

Or is it that the world of information and data has gotten more complex and so Google is just sensibly adapting to the environment?

There is certainly more media and interaction on the Web in 2009; and users are demanding real-time updates. So we’re inclined to believe the latter view – that Google is cautiously adapting to the environment, without losing its core focus. If it didn’t evolve that way, up and comers like Twitter would become more of a danger; moreso than relative dinosaurs like Microsoft and Yahoo.

Let us know whether you agree, or not, in the comments.

Google.com, circa May 1999

About ReadWrite’s Editorial Process

The ReadWrite Editorial policy involves closely monitoring the tech industry for major developments, new product launches, AI breakthroughs, video game releases and other newsworthy events. Editors assign relevant stories to staff writers or freelance contributors with expertise in each particular topic area. Before publication, articles go through a rigorous round of editing for accuracy, clarity, and to ensure adherence to ReadWrite's style guidelines.

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