We all use web search engines a lot...about 3 Billion times a day around the world. We hear pundits say that search sucks, or hasn't advanced much beyond 10 blue links. Eleven years ago I was director of engineering at AltaVista, the best search engine in the world at the time. The advances in search since then have been truly amazing. Even comparing Google today to Google four years ago is pretty amazing. See the screen shots below.
Fred Oliveira wrote a balanced story today, Search and Spoiled Bloggers that I found amusing. Fred said "Search is far from perfect...but it doesn't suck". I agree. Pundits would have you believe search innovation is dead. They are wrong...very wrong. If you don't have time to read this, at least scroll down to the end and watch the video. It is hilarious, and reminds us just how far we have come.
Compare this Google result page from 2007 to a similar result page in January 2011. The differences are amazing, yet so subtle and smoothly integrated that we hardly noticed when it happened.
Now look at a similar search result from January 2011. Notice all the additional search result types, photos, videos, news results, etc.
Now take a look at this search result for a tiny restaurant in Hampton, New Hampshire. Note the maps, address, telephone number, directions, Google Places page, customer reviews, Instant Search, etc. These features weren't there a few years ago. But, they were added so smoothly and gradually that we hardly noticed the changes over the years. Also note the absence of advertisements. If there isn't a relevant ad...Google doesn't insert generic ads.
Some of Google's search innovations are very subtle or behind the scenes. For example, the amazing speed of the search is the result of huge investments in servers and infrastructure. The freshness of the results is attributable to a Google project called Caffeine. It is a new search index that provides 50 percent fresher results for web searches, and the largest index of web pages ever assembled. Google Instant uses predictive text to anticipate what a user will search for, displaying results instantly as you type each letter of a search.
There are so many Google search features you almost need a search engine to find them all :-) Things like weather, stock quotes, sports scores, time conversions, unit measure conversions, language translations, book search, shopping, news, blogs, etc.
For example, do a search for a new movie title like "No Strings Attached". Google instantly knows that while "no strings attached" could refer to many things, there is a new movie by that name, so that is probably what you are looking for. Google also knows your approximate location if you are signed in, so it displays local movie theaters, show times, photos, ratings and reviews. And, they do all this in the blink of an eye...less than 2 tenths of a second. Amazing!
Search innovation will continue for years to come. In fact it will accelerate. There is much left to do. Local and Mobile search have lots of possibilities for innovation that leverage location awareness, personal preferences, and social network inputs. Based on these signals search results could include relevant coupons, offers, and advertising. Mobile phones will have better voice search, QR code and bar code recognition, and utilize the camera for things like Google Goggles search, and many more innovations.
The best innovations are the ones we use without even noticing them. They are so simple, intuitive, and smoothly integrated that we instantly use them without even thinking about it.
Oh, and search is pretty good at finding funny and relevant videos to. Take a look at this. If you don't laugh and nod in agreement...you must be 20 years old or younger. :-)
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