Google unveiled a suite of new functions for its search engine yesterday, and there’s some evidence that the company is chasing down live data for its search query responses. There’s also a new functionality that seems designed to take on Wolfram Alpha, the upcoming tool from mathematician Stephen Wolfram.
Live data is the white-hot center of internet search at the moment–the next frontier for search engines and users alike. The importance of live information is being ably demonstrated by Twitter, whose users are inputting enough data in real time that they regularly speed past news organizations when it comes to breaking news. The new Google functionality, which is available to everyone, lets you limit the responses Google spits out to only those that fit your timeline requirements. You can, for example, limit the results to the last week or the last 24 hours.
It’s a powerful way to track the freshest information, even though the 24 hour limit isn’t quite as up-to-the minute as the live search function within Twitter. But it’s clear that Google is very aware of the value of live data, and it’s not a stretch to speculate that thousands of researchers and programmers inside the Googleplex are busy trying to bring that 24 hour figure down.
Alongside the simple time delimiter, Google’s adding a proper timeline function that groups responses in order of the dates specifically mentioned within the results–a handy way to spot trends in particular events. Check out Google’s video for a demonstration of this, and a few of the other result-grouping features the company’s introducing.
Google also demonstrated Google Squared, which is another way to collate search results–and one that’s targeted to supply some of the same high-quality analytical data that the competing Wolfram Alpha search/knowledge engine is designed for.
Instead of merely returning a list of matched links for your query, Google Squared crawls within the data and then presents the information in a spreadsheet-like format: Each matched item is followed by a number of columns with the data broken across them. For example, searching for suspension bridges would result in a photo, a link to specifics about each bridge, and then a column for span size, height, river traversed, and so on. This creates a much richer, structured data source that can be seen as a Google response to Wolfram Alpha’s advanced knowledge-based search responses, though on a slightly smaller scale.
Since this function carries the risk of superceding the offerings of some other online content providers–like news organizations–and may in some ways be seen as stealing that content, Google’s VP of Search Products and User Experience Marissa Meyer was careful to highlight the fact that Google Squared emphasizes where its data is coming from, which should drive traffic to the originating site.
Google’s right to be worried about this sort of accusation, of course. Google’s search is a ubiquitously-exploited tool for commercial and private uses, and it’s becoming the target for legislators keen to keep tabs on the company’s power. Google Squared and time-delimited results offer more functions than regular Google, and potentially encroach on other businesses. What Google will unveil next is likely to be even more sophisticated, and problematic for publishers.
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