Google is using its massive data-stores to expand on its search options, although one of those latest tweaks—integrating Gmail into regular search—has the potential to draw the same type of negative reactions as the company’s earlier “Search, Plus Your World” initiative.
Gmail has been available for eight years, and some of its longtime users have amassed gigabytes’ worth of data. Google believes those mountains of information could add an extra layer of relevancy to regular searches.
“If you’re planning a biking trip to Tahoe, you might see relevant emails from friends about the best bike trails, or great places to eat on the right hand side of the results pages,” Amit Singhal, senior vice president of Google Search, wrote in an Aug. 8 corporate blog posting. “If it looks relevant you can then expand the box to read the emails.” This isn’t a default feature (at least not yet): Gmail users can sign up to participate in the field trial.
In its combining of personal data with broader search, the Gmail integration echoes Google’s earlier “Search, Plus Your World” initiative, which baked data from the Google Plus social network into Google results. That effort attracted negative feedback from a percentage of users, who felt that it unnecessarily skewed search results.
Knowledge Graph Expansion
Gmail isn’t Google’s only new search edition. The company launched its Knowledge Graph in May 2012, with a database of 500 million people, places and things imbued with 3.5 billion attributes and connections. That’s a sizable database, one that Google’s now extending to users in English-speaking countries outside the United States.
What does this mean for your average user? “If you’re in Australia and search for [chiefs], you’ll get the rugby team—its players, results and history,” Amit Singhal, senior vice president of Google Search, wrote in an Aug. 8 corporate blog posting. “We’ll also use this intelligence to help you find the right result more quickly when your search may have different meanings.”
Google is also working to automatically return lists of people and things in exchange to queries: for example, if the user searches for hurricanes in 2008 or actors who have won a particular award, Google can draw up those items as a group.
Google is also taking on Apple’s Siri with a new Voice Search for Android (and soon available on Apple’s iOS, evidently despite the fierce rivalry between the two companies). “We’ve combined our speech recognition expertise, understanding of language and the Knowledge Graph so that Voice Search can better interpret your questions,” Singhal wrote, “and sometimes speak the answers back as full sentences.”
The point of Voice Search and these other initiatives, he added, is to evolve Google into something more supple and powerful for the average user.
As Google evolves, of course, its engineers and executives will need to figure out the best ways to mine massive amounts of stored data without violating user privacy. More than competition from Apple or Microsoft, that could present the ultimate challenge to the company.