“Just Google it.”
The Mountain View-based search company is so popular that its name is now a verb. Of all the indicators that a company has “made it,” being included in a dictionary must be pretty high on the list. Google was the first company to get Web searches right, and has used that success – and the money that followed – to become one of the world’s leading technology companies.
Utilizing a series of complex algorithms to crawl and rank Web pages, Google capitalized on the link-based nature of the Web before anyone else and became the definitive method of information retrieval. However, the Web, like the world that it resides in, has rapidly evolved since Google’s founding in 1998. A list of links is no longer the revolutionary product that it once was, and our expectations from the Web have made the typical search page appear antiquated and out of place.
Google has recognized this and is making changes to its search product that will usher the company into the future of information retrieval yet again.
The base for Google’s evolution is Knowledge Graph, a database of information that utilizes the data Google has been collecting for years to add relevant information to Google searches. Information is displayed in a sidebar on the main search page, removing the need to select a search result and bounce around the Web every time a search is performed.
Knowledge Graph seems similar to the relatively young Wolfram Alpha but there are key differences between the two entities, chief among them being Wolfram Alpha’s emphasis on scientific and mathematical knowledge. Google has rudimentary mathematical skills, but Wolfram Alpha can handle sophisticated natural language queries where Google will often fail.
Google’s Director of Engineering John Giannandrea explained the difference between Knowledge Graph and WolframAlpha in terms of the database instead of the results. “We want to have every highly regarded data source in our database,” says Giannandrea. “Unlike Wolfram Alpha, our system is a database of common knowledge and not computational knowledge.”
Impressive in its own right, Knowledge Graph represents Google’s attempts to reduce the amount of time it takes between a search and relevant information but still requires that a user enter a query. Google Now, which was introduced during Google’s I/O developer conference, uses Knowledge Graph (and Google’s other products) to bring information to a user before they are even aware that they may need it.
By accessing the data that Google already collects about each user, Google Now presents information within a card-like interface that attempts to guess what the user may want to know at any given moment. If, for example, you were to use Google Maps to find a route from the airport to your home, Google Now will keep that search and its relevant information at the ready.
Google Now may finally explain why Google was so keen to enter such a wide variety of markets. Why would a search company build Google Maps, or Google Local, or any of its other services? Because Google wants to be the future of information retrieval, and in order to do so it needs to have access to as much data as possible.
The company already has this data via those aforementioned services. It has been sitting on its treasure trove of data for years, and Google Now is the fruit of Google’s many labors. By introducing this product, Google is saying that the future of the Web and all of its information can’t be summarized with a term like “search” or “information retrieval.”
In a Google Now future, the Web isn’t a passive database that you need to search or even think about. The Web – and all its information – will come to you.