The world of search is constantly evolving, thanks in the main to Google continually pushing the boundaries in an effort to bring the complete ‘search package’ to every user browsing the ether for products and services.
There has inevitably been some criticism that much of the ‘innovation’ thus far in search has been retrograde and negative. You only need to look to the Panda and Penguin updates for proof of that. On the face of it Google appears to be targeting those who generally try to work within the system. Granted, there are always a few bad apples who try to abuse the rules, but by and large, marketers have quite happily played by Google’s rules. So it’s nice to hear some good news for a change. Google is looking to make its search engine more ‘intelligent’ and intuitive, so that users will be given a better and more productive experience every time they log on. But what exactly does that mean?
The push for more intelligent search isn’t such a new concept.
Google has been looking into the matter for some time now. It’s only recently that it went public on the matter. Last month Google announced the ‘Introduction of the Knowledge Graph’ in the U.S, in an attempt to make searching a more-intelligent and rewarding experience. According to Amit Singhal, Google’s head of search, the reasoning behind this is that it wanted to improve its search results by teaching its servers to understand what the words typed into its search boxes meant, and how they related to other concepts. In other words, Google wanted to teach it users how to search more ‘intelligently’ and productively. Speaking to the BBC, Mr Singhal explained:
“We had already done a lot of wizardry to give you relevant text, images and video in one simple interface, but computers still didn’t understand that the Taj Mahal is not only a beautiful monument. It could also be a Grammy-winning artist, or a casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and, depending on if you are feeling hungry, it could also be a neighbourhood restaurant.”
“To human beings that’s just intuitive. To computers it’s not, because of the following fundamental fact: computers are really good at representing strings of characters. They use Ascii and various other nomenclature to represent sequences of words and numbers, whereas human beings live in a world of things, not strings.”
Armed with this information, Google acquired a company called Freebase that had been experimenting with novel ways of how to incorporate intelligence into a computer’s memory. This represented Google’s opportunity to experiment with the concept of moving search away from strings to things. Google took Freebase’s initial knowledge data base of 12 million entities and added to it, so that it now stands at roughly 2oo million entities or ‘things.’ However, whilst the idea of personalisation in search is undoubtedly valuable, it is not the be-all and end-all according to Singhal: context and interconnectivity are equally important too.
“People conflate two things, context and personalisation, into this big lump called “personalisation”. Context is fundamental to running search: what language you speak and where you are right now. So when you type the query “pizza”, we give you results in London, near you, in English and not Italian results from Rome – which some would argue is the most relevant pizza on this Earth. One of the objectives we have in the search team is to give the most locally relevant results, globally – and that’s context.”
“The other kind of personalisation is like when I type in “Lords”, I get the cricket ground and not the Dungeons and Dragons game – which most other people in America would want – because I was raised with a healthy diet of cricket. That’s personalisation which is based on you as a human being, and not as a collective of citizens of London or so on. And the truth is that context is more powerful than personalisation in average search usage.”
So, is Google about to throw all its eggs in one basket and concentrate on bringing personalised search at the expense of intuition? Well, not if Me Singhal gets his way:
“In my view we shouldn’t go overboard with personalisation in search, because serendipity is really valuable. We now have explicit algorithms built into Google search so that personalisation does not take over your page. You, as a user, [need} to get all points of view. I don’t want anyone to only get just one point of view. So in my view it will get more relevant, but personalisation will not take over your search page. On top of that, we will keep a control there where you can see what the page would have looked like if you turn off personalisation – but not context, because turning off context is really damaging to your results.”