Google: Building the search engine of the future, one baby step at a time

Larry Page once described the perfect search engine as understanding exactly what you mean and giving you back exactly what you want. It’s very much like the computer I dreamt about as a child growing up in India, glued to our black-and-white TV for every episode of Star Trek. I imagined a future where a starship computer would be able to answer any question I might ask, instantly. Today, we’re closer to that dream than I ever thought possible during my working life—and here are some of the latest steps we’re taking today to make search even more intelligent:

1. Understanding the world
In May we launched the Knowledge Graph, our database of more than 500 million real-world people, places and things with 3.5 billion attributes and connections among them. The feedback has been phenomenally positive and we want to extend this feature to people outside the U.S. So starting today, you’ll see Knowledge Graph results across every English-speaking country in the world. If you’re in Australia and search for [chiefs], you’ll get the rugby team—its players, results and history.

We’ll also use this intelligence to help you find the right result more quickly when your search may have different meanings. For example, if you search for [rio], you might be interested in the Brazilian city, the recent animated movie or the casino in Vegas. Thanks to the Knowledge Graph, we can now give you these different suggestions of real-world entities in the search box as you type:

Finally, the best answer to your question is not always a single entity, but a list or group of connected things. It’s quite challenging to pull these lists automatically from the web. But we’re now beginning to do just that. So when you search for [california lighthouses], [hurricanes in 2008] or [famous female astronomers], we’ll show you a list of these things across the top of the page. And by combining our Knowledge Graph with the collective wisdom of the web, we can even provide more subjective lists like [best action movies of the 2000s] or [things to do in paris]. If you click on an item, you can then explore the result more deeply on the web:

So far we can produce hundreds of thousands of lists involving millions of items, and we’ll keep growing to match your curiosity. A quick preview:

2. Putting your info at your fingertips
Sometimes the best answer to your question isn’t available on the public web—it may be contained somewhere else, such as in your email. We think you shouldn’t have to be your own mini-search engine to find the most useful information—it should just work. A search is a search, and we want our results to be truly universal. So we’re developing a way to find this information for you that’s useful and unobtrusive, and we’d love your feedback. Starting today, we’re opening up a limited trial where you can sign up to get information from your Gmail right from the search box.

So 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 page. If it looks relevant you can then expand the box to read the emails:

We’re working on some even more useful features. For example, if you search for [my flights] we will organize flight confirmation emails for any upcoming trips in a beautifully easy-to-read way right on the search results page:

3. Understanding your intent
Often the most natural way to ask a question is by asking aloud. So we’ve combined our speech recognition expertise, understanding of language and the Knowledge Graph so that Voice Search can better interpret your questions and sometimes speak the answers back as full sentences. This has been available on Android for a few weeks and people love it. It’ll soon be available on your iPhone or iPad (iOS version 4.2+).

You just need to tap the microphone icon and ask your question, the same way you’d ask a friend. For example, ask “What movies are playing this weekend?” and you’ll see your words streamed back to you quickly as you speak. Then Google will show you a list of the latest movies in theaters near you, with schedules and even trailers. It works for everything from celebrity factoids to the height of Kilamanjaro and more. When Google can supply a direct answer to your question, you’ll get a spoken response too.

These are baby steps, but important ones on our way to building the search engine of the future—one that is much more intelligent and useful than it was just a few years ago. It’s a very exciting time to be working in this field.

Posted by Amit Singhal, SVP Google Search

Google Search, Punctuation Marks and Other Symbols

Google usually ignores punctuation and mathematical symbols from a query because it doesn’t index them. They rarely change the meaning of a query and Google’s index would have to grow a lot bigger, without improving the results too much. Some punctuation marks and mathematical symbols are used to provide advanced features (for example: colon, quotes, minus sign, plus sign).

I’ve recently noticed that Google started to show results for queries like [.], [,], [:], [;], [#], [%], [@], [^], [)], [~], [|], [“], [<], [$]. When you search for [%], Google shows the results for [percent sign] and that happens irrespective of the interface language, so it’s not a synonym generated by Google’s algorithms.

Search for [:] and you’ll get the results for [colon]. Most results are about the colon from the human anatomy and they’re not relevant.

New Advanced Google Image Search Page

Google updated the interface of the advanced image search page to look just like the corresponding Web search page. The redesigned page is easier to use, it groups the search options and includes some of the options that were only available in the sidebar.

Here’s the old UI:

Why use the advanced search page instead of using the sidebar? Some of the options aren’t available in the sidebar: restricting the results to a filetype, finding Creative Commons images, finding images from a domain or from a country.

There’s one feature that’s no longer available in the new interface. Can you find it?

Google Rocks Again: Audio Pronunciation in Google Search

Google added a new feature to the dictionary OneBox: audio pronunciation. This feature was available if you clicked “More” to read all the definitions, but now it’s more accessible.

Google uses Flash to play the audio file, so the feature doesn’t work if you disable Flash. It’s interesting that Google shows the audio icon if you use an iPad, even though the device doesn’t let you install the Flash plugin. The HTML5 audio tag is a better option for iOS devices and for the browsers that support it.

Google Now Tests Infinite Scrolling for Search Results Pages

After testing a persistent header, Google continues to experiment with infinite scrolling for Google search results. A Webmaster World user spotted a new box that replaces the standard pagination links: “show more results”. When you click the message, Google loads the second page of results below the top results.

Barry Schwartz says that Google tested a similar interface back in June. I remember that SearchMash, Google’s old playground for search experiments, used infinite scrolling in the first iterations. Last year, Google Image Search added infinite scrolling,

There are many extensions that add infinite scrolling to Google search results pages. One of the best is AutoPager, which is available for Firefox and Chrome.

Google Search: A New Google Homepage Experiment

Another day, another Google experiment. This time, Google tests a new design for the homepage that combines two experimental features that have already been used (the black navigation bar and the blue search button) with a new way to display the links to Google’s corporate pages: at the bottom of the page.

Google has been testing a lot of UI changes for the homepage and the search results pages and it’s obvious that some of them will be included in a new interface that will be released soon. Google does away with many traditional features (the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button could be removed from the homepage, the link to the cached version of a search result could be hidden, while snippet URLs could be replaced by the name of the site) and tries to emphasize the navigation bar, which is likely to include new social features.

{ Thanks, Riccardo and Pascal. }

Google Search : Find Similar Images from a Site

Google Image Search has a nifty feature that was added a couple of months ago, but it’s not so easy to find. If you restrict the results to a site and click “similar” next to one of the images, Google will only show similar images from that site. For example, if you search for [paris] and click “similar” next to a photo of the Eiffel Tour, Google will show pictures of the Eiffel Tour and other similar monuments from Paris, but only if they are included in a Wikipedia page.

It’s a great way to explore a site and group related images when it’s difficult to type a precise query. The top results provided by the Similar Images feature are much better than the results for [monuments in Paris], where you can find maps, flags, logos.

It’s important to note that Google Image Search’s site: operator no longer takes into account the URL of the image, so if a blog includes an image from Flickr, you’ll still be able to find the image when you restrict the image results to the blog’s domain or subdomain. “In the past, the [site:] operator filtered based on the image URL, not based on the URL of web pages linking to the images. Now, the operator will run your search over web sites that include images, no matter where the images themselves are hosted, which removes a lot of noise from your results and gives you more control over what you’re searching for.”

Google Search : Google Tests a New Interface

Another day, another Google experiment. This time, Google tests a new search button inspired by Bing and removes the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button from the homepage, probably because it’s no longer useful. Google Instant makes the search button unnecessary most of the time, so Google could remove it altogether. It’s interesting that the new design emphasizes the search button instead of making it less prominent.

Google’s experiment highlights the header of the search results pages and uses gray/red icons and labels in the vertical navigation menu. Another change is that the “cached” and “similar” links are placed in the Instant Preview box, so they’re more difficult to find.

All the icons and images for this experiment are available in a sprite.

{ Thanks, Juuso, François and Websonic. }

Go Inside Search to get the most out of Google

Whether you’re a beginner to web search or a search master, you’ll find all the search shortcuts you need under the Features section of the site. For example, most people don’t realize that the Google search box is a calculator, a world clock and a unit converter. You can also discover tips like how to use translated sites to search for [crepe recipes] on French sites or how to use an asterisk in a phrase or question so Google can fill in the blanks.

In addition, if you ever wonder how search takes your query and delivers results, you can use Inside Search to get an under-the-hood look at the technology behind Google Search. There are interactive diagrams with information on how far every query has to travel to get an answer back to you, how often we run experiments (we ran over 6000 in 2010 alone), how much time has gone into developing the algorithm and more. We’ve also included the Search Globe, an interactive display of searches around the world, on this page.

Inside Search also takes advantage of HTML5 to create a more interactive experience throughout the site, so instead of just clicking to read a list of search facts, you can do something a little more fun, like pick up a test tube with your mouse and pour the solution onto the Google homepage to reveal interesting facts about search:

Finally, be sure to visit the Playground section of the site. There, you can try your hand at the A Google a Day trivia game, browse our gallery of past Google doodles and be on the lookout for new fun additions coming soon.

To learn new search tips, get a behind-the-scenes look at Google technology or find out more information about the announcements from Tuesday’s event, visit the new site at

Posted by Johanna Wright, Director, Search Product Management

Google Tests a New Search Interface

Many users noticed a new interface for Google’s search results pages that tries to better separate results. There’s a lot of space between the results, but that’s not useful when you try to find the best answer for your query.

Huffington Post notices that “the new design looks less cluttered. Rows of text are spaced farther apart and text colors are more muted than previous versions.” TechCrunch calls the new interface “ugly” and less useful because “it actually gives you much less information on the screen. This will require users to do more scrolling and paging through results to find what they’re looking for.”

Links are no longer underlined and one of the experiments uses dotted lines to separate results.

Fortunately. the new interface is still an experiment.

{ Thanks, John, Silviu, James, Ken, Steve and Josh. }