New Google Search Features: We're Not Dead Yet; Not Even Resting

Posted by: Rob Hof on May 12, 2009

Amid a flurry of Internet search developments by other companies recently, Google today sought to demonstrate that it’s not ceding any leadership in the Internet’s most valuable territory. At the company’s Searchology event at its Mountain View headquarters, Google announced several new and upcoming features that indicate neither Twitter nor WolframAlpha nor Microsoft is easily going to vault past Google. The overall goal, according to Udi Manber, Google’s vice president of engineering for core search, is for Google search to understand people and what they mean.

Since blog software problems prevented me from liveblogging the event, I tweeted the basics on my Twitter stream this morning, and others have covered the details. So I’ll just summarize the announcements here:

* Search Options allows you to open up a pane on the left side of the screen that lets you narrow results by time, including the past 24 hours (hello, Twitter), and "genre," starting with videos, forums, and reviews but growing to other categories later. You can also look at different views of the results, including one called "Wonder Wheel" that offers related results in a circle around the original query. These features are being rolled out gradually today.

* Google Squared combs through the Web (a limited number of sites for now, the whole Web over time) to create a table of information, not just Web links. (Hello, WolframAlpha.) For instance, a search on "small dogs" will bring up a list of breeds along with photos, descriptions, litter size, and the like. You'll be able to add your own columns of information and save those Squares if you're signed into a Google account. This feature will show up on Google Labs by the end of May.

* Rich Snippets adds to the summaries under each search result a line in gray that sums up the essence of the result, such as a further descriptor of a person with a common name or the number of stars a restaurant got in reviews.

I'm not sure any of these is going to change the game in search in itself, since they seem likely to appeal mostly to power users. Search expert Danny Sullivan, editor-in-chief of Search Engine Land, says the features may be mostly for bragging rights, so when rivals come out with something new, Google can say, "Oh, we have that." I actually think they're potentially more useful than that, but he may be right that most people won't bother using them.

But those last two features, at least, have the potential to raise more hackles at Web publishers, who have been complaining that Google essentially hijacks their content and places ads on it. While I and others think that's largely a crock, Google's growing power is undeniable and causing more and more pushback from a host of players.

In fact, I suspect that this event was not entirely aimed at convincing people that Google is already doing, or working on, what its many rivals claim as unique features. The search giant also may want to show that it's not a fat, happy monopolist resting on its laurels because it has rendered others unable to compete. We have to keep making these improvements, Google's saying, because there are so many others out there just a click away.

That message would be aimed at the U.S. Justice Department, whose new assistant attorney general in charge of antitrust, Christine Varney, has indicated plans to return to a more aggressive enforcement regime. (Though why so many stories take at face value Varney's demonstrably false claim last year that Google "has acquired a monopoly in Internet online advertising" is beyond me. If it has a monopoly, it's only in search advertising, which is no more than half the online ad market. Plus, the redundant phrase "Internet online advertising" raises questions of basic understanding of the whole subject. But I digress....)

Indeed, Mayer made a point after the event of claiming that Google is not "dominant" in search. "Search is a really healthy competitive space," she said, in one of the less convincing statements of the day. "It really keeps us on our toes. The race in search is far from over."

But if so, Google's walking a fine line. Although few if any claim that Google achieved its commanding position in search by anything but putting out a better product, antitrust concerns may well make it more difficult for the company to keep innovating as freely. Fair or not, as my colleague Steve Wildstrom noted this morning, Google's in the government's sights now, and will have to be more careful about how it expands its business.

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Reader Comments

Michael E Piston

May 13, 2009 12:55 AM

The mere fact that Google is successful does not make it a monopolist. The online search market is intensively competitive with few barriers to entry. Google holds its predominant position because of its reputation for producing the best results for online searches and could lose it in relatively short order if that ever ceased being the case. I can only hope that the Obama Administration doesn't repeat President Clinton's mistakes with Microsoft by attempting to penalize Google for its success.

BlueNight

May 13, 2009 01:31 AM

Don't be silly! Of COURSE the administration will punish the strongest player in the market by calling it a monopoly. The fact that the site I want is result #1 or #2 in Google, while it's #6 or #9 on Yahoo has nothing to do with it.

The only monopolies that shall be allowed to exist are artificial monopolies, created by government interference in the marketplace. See if Ford doesn't pull ahead in the next several years, and get the smackdown as its reward.

Natural monopolies, ones that are created through good products/services and competitive pricing instead of RICO-type tactics, are good for the market because they give any challengers a concrete goal to aim for.

Wayne Frazzini

May 13, 2009 03:15 AM

Google has a cute name that helps it keep the lead in consumers search choice. Honestly, it could easily be replaced by a better "search mouse" with a better name. The average person selects "google" by habit only, I beleive. Not because they are an awesome product, with genius built in to their engine, and a fantastic company. Google, the epitome of "what is in a name"! The Government needs to get back to the basics of being Government and get out of business, already! Geez!

james

May 13, 2009 03:22 AM

from which date WolframAlpha will start working

venkitakrishnan venugopal

May 13, 2009 03:26 AM

I endorse Mr.Michael E Piston's views.

Mark

May 13, 2009 07:27 AM

@Michael E Piston,

It's not big business that a democrat administration is for. While they do take the money from them just as much as republicans, they take the side of the citizen more so than the republicans.

If Google demonstrates some remarkably insane monopolistic move, like Microsoft did by making their browser a part of the OS, thereby forcing people to use them, then Google will have it coming to them.

So far, they seem to be OK. People truly do have a choice in internet search, so far.

Justin Finkelstein

May 13, 2009 07:39 AM

My reading of the issues of Microsoft and the government were a different issue though, from those between the current government and Google; with the old issue, Microsoft were deliberately squeezing out their competitors.
There isn't a viable way to do that with search, because you can't lock users into a search engine unless you deploy a business-based search product like Google's search hardware, so it's still a free and open market.

StrPrpn

May 13, 2009 07:56 AM

Michael, I agree with you about Google. They rose to the top because their product is by far the best at what it does. But Microsoft actually did pull out every dirty trick in the book to get to the top and keep others from getting there. Microsoft is not the most ubiquitous operating system in the world because of quality. They deserved what they got from Clinton, and deserve what they've been getting from Europe.

Luke

May 13, 2009 08:28 AM

Oh no, they give us useful tools to make our web browsing and virtual life easier? Lets put a stop to that immediately! What? They're so clever and innovative that their technology and ideas have earned them a large cash flow, which they generously use to contribute to the well being of others and create a large amount of steady jobs?! That's even worse! Shut them down and slip some of that cash into my pocket.

Darkflame

May 13, 2009 08:38 AM

Googles in the government's sites because, unlike Yahoo and Microsoft, they put up a fight when asked for search data.

Cant have that sort of attitude can we?

jack

May 13, 2009 08:46 AM

"We're Not Dead Yet"

AND WHO EVER SAID GOOGLE IS EVEN DYING?
I think only this author to make cheesy title for his article.

Google is stronger than ever in search zone game. MSN and yahoo are dying, that's the truth. Not the opposite.

Ras Mentalo

May 13, 2009 09:07 AM

Google's empire is built on shaky ground. All it will take is for one company to come up with a better search engine and the value of Google will plummet.

tracy

May 13, 2009 09:18 AM

I agree with Michael. Just because Google is successful does not make it a monopolist. I have a plethora of options at my fingertips to search on the web and I know this. It is my choice to use Google, but I can just as as easily choose another option. Google should not be penalized or hindered in their development and growth because many users choose to use their service because they feel it is superior to others. Google is not stopping or preventing a user from using Yahoo or another option. I use google on a daily basis but if I am really trying to find information, I will also check to see if something different comes up on another engine.

Unimpressed Googlist

May 13, 2009 09:21 AM

Google limits search results to 1,000. That's BS. Give me 10,000.
Google takes too long to load its home page. Don't waste my time.
The auto-suggestion mode gets in the way of the Search button to click on.
Must have flash to view Google map feature. Stick flash up your elgooog.

greg

May 13, 2009 10:54 AM

Wayne F. I totally agree with you to a point. Google did draw in people with a cool name just as myspace did a bit ago....then facebook came around and most people I know prefer facebook to myspace because of the better apps. However, Google is doing a great deal to ensure that they don't become a "myspace" and begin to lose out to someone else.

Reed

May 13, 2009 02:30 PM

I think what Google should worry about is becoming a Jack of All Trades and Master of None. Remember ten years ago...different search engines were used for different things.
If you needed to do academic research, Altavista was the place. If you needed to search for people/places/businesses and the like, Yahoo was the place. Lycos was good for general use and so was Google...

But the thing is the internet is too large to be searched by just ONE search engine. Not to say one search engine couldn't catalog all of the internet but even if it did, search results would be too varied.

In our Wal-mart/Supermarket lives we've become so spoiled with one stop shopping...we forget that sometimes it's better to go to a specialist. Local florists still get better flowers than floral departments of large chain stores. We've dug ourselves into this hole of needing instant and perfect gratification...so it's no wonder that Google is only trying to step up to the bar.

On a side note, the difference with Microsoft is this...making people's lives more convenient IS good. Turning a profit's not bad either...but Microsoft didn't give people a choice of whether or not to have IE integrated into the OS. If it was an option during installation then it wouldn't be a monopolistic endeavor.

John Furrier

May 13, 2009 04:45 PM

Rob,
You nailed this story. In fact after reviewing the coverage. The PR team told me SiliconAngle.com would be invited next time (we cover search) and in my incubator SiliconAngle Labs we also develop new search products. I was watching with great interest. Bottom line is that Google is further along than people think. In fact I would suggest that they are hiding it. They are just using words that others are not.

My favorite direction is Semantic Keywords and the notion around intent. Twitter or anyone else is not even close to Google in this area.

Great story you nailed the insider view and the analysis is right on the money. Google isn't resting. They know the world is changing and they are at risk. I love these new market forces.

Ironically in Palo Alto that night a small but meaningful event happened. A technical discussion on Real Time Search. This is the future of search - the real time web that changes relevance and intent.

Rob

May 14, 2009 05:43 AM

Great work by the government! Let's beat up on our most innovative and successful companies because they've become #1 offering clearly superior products and services! But let's prop up (with TAXPAYER$$) basket cases like CITI, AIG, Bank of America etc. etc., managed by greedy, shortsighted, incompetent, overpaid managers, because they're "too big to fail". No anti-trust double standards here.

Nick

May 17, 2009 05:45 PM

Yes, Google appears to have tremendous market power which may by default give it monopolistic opportunity, though not necessarily imply it acts like a monopolist.

On the other hand one of the easiest ways to use market power is to influence actions and prices of competitors so that Google and its main two or three rivals act as 'one'.

Complex issue, on the other hand there are simple barriers to entry to introducing innovation and competition in the search arena, plain and simple.

This is not your grandfather's marketplace and the problem with taking the free market view is that it has never, ever existed. Ever.

Cheers,
Nick
www.neuropersona.com

saritha

August 31, 2009 04:29 AM

the gooooooooooooooooooogle is waste worst etc................................

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BusinessWeek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, Douglas MacMillan, and Spencer Ante dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. One of the first mainstream media tech blogs, Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.

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