Google is planning a radical upgrade of its search engine in the coming months, according to a new report in The Wall Street Journal.
That March 14 report suggested that, once the changes are complete, Google will offer more facts and direct answers at the top of the search-results page in addition to the usual blue hyperlinks to relevant Websites. It will filter search queries through a massive database of people and objects, and rely heavily on semantic search, or the process of understanding the actual meaning of words.
The Journal relied on Amit Singhal, Google's head search executive, for the information. Some of the proposed changes sound reminiscent of Wolfram Alpha, a search engine that offers a definitive set of answers (usually numerical) in place of a page of Web links. For example, type the term James Dean into Wolfram Alpha, and you receive data on the iconic actor s birthdate and death-date, place of birth, and so on; do the same in Google, and your screen is flooded with a variety of Website links, images and news items.
Around the time Wolfram Alpha entered the market in 2009, Google introduced Google Squared, a search application available through Google Labs that took unstructured information and organized it into a customized table, with detailed information inserted into specific categories. Google ended up killing that experiment in 2011, as part of its larger efforts to consolidate the company's strategic aspects. However, it seems as if the idea of presenting the searcher with structured information hasn t been discarded entirely.
While Google continues to dominate the traditional search realm, it faces a not-insignificant challenge from Microsoft's Bing. According to research firm comScore, Google's share of the U.S. search market blipped upward from 66.3 percent in January to 66.4 percent in February. For the same period, Microsoft's share rose from 15.2 percent to 15.3 percent, while Yahoo's declined from 14.1 percent to 13.8 percent.
But under the terms of a 10-year agreement signed in the summer of 2009, Microsoft's Bing powers Yahoo's back-end search, while Yahoo acts as the exclusive worldwide relationship sales force for both companies search advertisers. Essentially, that folds Yahoo's search-engine share into that of Microsoft's, bringing the latter s percentage of the market to 29.1 percent.
If Bing has managed to endure in the marketplace, it s at least partially due to Microsoft's decision to focus less on broad keyword search--Google's area of expertise--and more on specific verticals such as Shopping and Entertainment.
And as search evolves, the pressure grows on Google to both stay ahead of its competitors and ferret out new sources of ad revenue. Its upcoming changes could be the search-engine giant s way of doing both.