If you use Google search, you’re likely familiar with Google’s Knowledge Graph, the informational boxes that pop up at the top of search results when you enter a query like “What is the capital of Egypt?” or “What is $1,000 in British pounds?” Launched in 2012, Google has been gradually expanding the number of queries Knowledge Graph can answer.
Today, Google has added a whole new realm of knowledge to Knowledge Graph’s fact-base. Google searches for certain medical conditions will now bring up typical symptoms and treatments, along with details about how common the condition is. All answers are compiled, curated, and reviewed by a team of medical doctors at Google and the Mayo Clinic, using a combination of clinical knowledge and high-quality medical sources across the Internet.
Since 1 in 20 Google searches relate to health in some way, today’s upgrade certainly makes sense for Google and for users. How it affects other online medical tools remains to be seen, though. Largely thanks to their positioning within Google searches, web-based health information repositories have grown into online powerhouses–WebMD, for example, is the 105th most popular website in the U.S. and the 325th most popular website worldwide. Although some of Google’s Knowledge Graph answers point users toward WebMD and similar tools, the info cards are designed to keep users within Google, rather than sending them along to other websites. Shades of this same “portal” approach to the Internet can be seen in other companies, like Facebook, which is tweaking its news feed algorithm and prioritizing its own video player in order to keep its users from ever leaving its blue walls.
This is not the first time Google has demonstrated its interest in what could be classed as the “mobile health” industry. In 2008, the company created Google Health, which was designed to act as a personal health information centralization service, through which Google users could volunteer their health data to be part of a one-stop-shop Google Health profile. The project was cancelled in 2011, although Google has since launched the similar-sounding Google Fit service, offering a health-tracking platform for its Android operating system.
Google has also made efforts to use its gigantic data sets to track the spread of diseases, with tools like Google Flu Trends, which incorporates user searches for possible influenza-related queries.
Not all of these tools have been successful for Google. As noted, Google Health quickly folded, and Google Flu Trends has previously been responsible for predicting erroneously high levels of flu. By comparison, adding medical data to Google’s Knowledge Graph is not such a massive undertaking.