Google search is constantly evolving — we make roughly 500 improvements to search in a typical year. Our goal is to get you to the answer you’re looking for faster and faster, creating a nearly seamless connection between your questions and the information you seek. If the past is any indication, we don’t know what search will look like in 2020, but we wouldn’t be surprised if it looks nothing like it does today.
Amit Singhal, Google Fellow and resident search expert, answers a few questions so we get a look at where search may be going next.
In 2011, search went through some major changes. What changes do you see going forward?
Today, search understands a whole lot. You can type “Philippines flag” into the search box and see a picture of the flag. Not only do we understand language in the morphological sense, but we also understand user intent. Search has moved from keywords to intent, and that is the marvel of the last decade in search. Users just give us a few words and we understand what they are looking for. And that has happened at the same time as we have made the speed of returning results to you much faster. In just a decade, an entire generation of users have come to expect search to just work.
How does Google ensure that its users always get a good search experience? What kind of updates have you made?
One improvement we rolled out In November last year taught our algorithms to better determine the appropriate level of freshness for a given query. Different searches have different freshness needs — If I search for [olympics], I probably want information about next summer’s upcoming Olympics, not the 1900 Summer Olympics (the only time my favorite sport, cricket, wasplayed). Google Search uses a freshness algorithm, designed to give you the most up-to-date results, so even when I just type [olympics] without specifying 2012, I still find what I’m looking for. The same is true for searches for information that changes often, but isn’t really a hot topic or a recurring event. For example, if you’re researching the [bestslrcameras], you want the ones that are best now, not even as long as a few months ago.
Another recent change we introduced is Search plus Your World, Google’s new search experience that blends universal search with personal results: content that was either created by you or shared with you, both publicly and privately, by people you care about. It makes search more comprehensive by including content that is relevant to you personally. Personal results surface photos, Google+ posts and web pages shared specifically with you — in addition to the public content we’ve surfaced until now. Since these results may include personal information such as photos and Google+ posts, we secure these pages with SSL to encrypt your personal content with the same level of protection and security that users are used to with Gmail. Search plus Your World is currently available in English for searches on Google.com, but we’re working to bring these features to more countries soon.
However, even with all that, search is far from a solved problem, and we’re constantly innovating to make it better.
What would your dream search engine be like?
My dream search engine of the future–my Star Trek Googlephone–helps and guides me throughout the day, telling me what I should be doing next without me having to ask. It should keep track of my schedule and remind me to get going to my next meeting because there’s a traffic jam on the way. It should also help me prepare for my kids’ birthdays by figuring out from our online interactions what gifts they’d be happiest to get and telling me where I can get the best deals to buy them — and send me directions to the store.