For Google, World Cup 2014 is more than just the world’s biggest sporting event. It’s also a monthlong scrum during which the search giant’s infrastructure will be tested worldwide as massive numbers of mobile users in international markets like Brazil, Germany, and Japan join American consumers using their smartphones as a second screen for matches. During a recent UEFA Champions League match, a staggering 64% of related searches were made on mobile. The World Cup generates more search interest than the Super Bowl, Olympics, and Tour De France combined, according to Google's internal statistics.
Google is using this momentum to roll out significant changes to its intelligent personal assistant app, Google Now—changes which include live updating scores and original editorial content.
Users who have opened the personal assistant service over the past few days will have noticed two new things. For one, every Google Now user was asked in the days leading up to the World Cup if they were interested in receiving World Cup scores and, if so, which countries they wanted to follow. This is the first time Google Now has rolled out sports-related market queries to their large user base. Over 700 million Android phones have Google Now installed, as do a significant portion of iPhones.
Google made a small but extremely useful tweak to its sports scores feature, which will be unrolled during the Cup: Instead of sending users to search results or Google News when they want to see detailed scores, Google Now will display detailed information inside a card. The World Cup will be the first time Google Now lets its users "tap into a live card to get more info rather than just referring them to search," Roya Soleimani, a Google spokesperson, told Fast Company. "For the World Cup, that means showing goal attempts, red cards, yellow cards, and more."
Soleimani added that this is part of a larger, ongoing strategy: "That is where Google Now is going." Engineers have been working on the new functionality for several months and the underarching philosophy of the endeavor is to let users quickly find more detailed information on specific topics without leaving Google Now.
Google representatives stressed to Fast Company that mobile Internet usage is the biggest distinguishing factor for the 2014 World Cup, along with changes in traffic patterns caused by Google Instant Search (which didn’t exist during the 2010 South Africa games).
Google is also using the World Cup as an opportunity to branch into original editorial content. Google Trends, best known for the Google Flu Trends project, has created an in-house editorial unit for the duration of the World Cup that will create Nate Silver-style data journalism around upcoming matches. According to Google, "We're excited that for the first time we have a full-time Trends Newsroom curating and analyzing relevant Trends related to the biggest moment in sports. From our Trends team engineers to data analysts, writers, translators, and designers—we have a full team highlighting the pulse of the web in the 32 competing countries."
"What we’re planning is similar to Google Flu Trends, in terms of getting predictive analytics for things," Google representative Chris Dale said. "This means measuring sentiment around a particular game, seeing if Ghana is anxious or Australia is optimistic by using search trends and seeing what's rising. We want to determine things like whether conversations about Neymar’s hair are more popular than conversations about all of the Belgian team. As things go along, we want to analyze sentiment about red cards and things like that."
The company’s in-house Google Trends Newsroom consists of more than 20 employees. "This is our first experience with this, and we're excited for what the future may hold for using this sort of model," Soleimani said.