Google Search Crystal Ball Equal Parts Fun, Frightening

 
 
By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2009-12-15 Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Google's future of search is looking incredibly bright, but it's bound to be more than a little disconcerting for privacy advocates because it means Google will act on the data it collects on users.

ReadWriteWeb's Marshall Kirkpatrick put Google's future search focuses, originally relayed by Google's Marissa Mayer to the Telegraph in three buckets: translated search, social/personalized search and intuitive search.

Translated search is a great idea and seems harmless. Mayer told the Telegraph:

Imagine what it would be like if there was a tool built into the search engine which translated my search query into every language and then searched the entire world's Websites. And then invoked the translation software a second and third time - to not only then present the results in your native language, but then translated those sites in full when you clicked through.

I can imagine this, and it sounds as fantastic as it is challenging, getting all of these moving parts of machine translating firing on the fly. Breaking down the language barriers will put more content in front of more eyeballs in an instant.

Things are also progressing on the social search and personalization front, as Mayer told the Telegraph:

Although we search the Web right now, what we really want to do is search it as each individual user sees the Web. We want Google to be the most accurate reference tool which allows people to search the Web and each have an individual experience. ... Understanding the social network structure and the permission rules around social networks status updates when they are not public will really empower us in terms of search."

Well, Google is already showing glimpses of this, right? Its real-time search capability indexes Twitter tweets and public Facebook info. There are questions about whether Google is opening itself up for libel for what people tweet on the microblog.

There are even more questions about the viability of Google Social Search, which launched to Google Labs in October.

For those who opt to join this experiment, Google Social Search puts content from searchers' contacts directly into search results. This so far surfaces anything from restaurant reviews on Yelp to movie reviews on IMDB.com that your friends have written and published to the Web.

The app sniffs these out, using the social services Google users have listed in their Google profile. Making all of these connections between disparate services is a major technological challenge.

Moreover, Google can't possibly make this anything but an opt-in service without raising the hackles of average Joe consumer, let alone privacy nuts. Google definitely has its work cut out for it here.

Finally, intuitive search. We already use recommendation engines that try to figure out what we like from our Web surfing habits and make suggestions. Adaptive Blue's Glue is one such Web service I've used to get suggestions on books and movies.

But Google wants to own this Holy Grail, as the Telegraph noted:

The ultimate prize for Mayer is intuitive search. She wants Google to be capable of presenting information to users before they even know what they're looking for. Amazingly she doesn't think her team [is] that far away from achieving what she calls the "omnivorous" search engine - i.e., one which is able to take a user's total context - where they are, what they were just reading, which direction their mobile phone is pointed and so on.

Mayer said:

You could have some information waiting for you when you turn on your computer or some relevant URLs forming part of your browser background or on your side wiki.

For this last bit, I'm pretty sure Mayer meant Sidewiki, as in the annotation tool the company is throwing against the wall, but you get the idea.

And how about that idea? That flips the current search model on its ear because instead of reaching out to Google to get search results, Google reaches out to users with search suggestions.

That's another fantastic idea, but one that will require opt-in options - no opt-out at all - or else Google will risk further scorn and scrutiny from privacy watchdogs.

Because you're essentially giving Google the right to guess what you want based on your Web surfing behaviors and deliver it to you. Where the Web is concerned, Google would deign to know you personally from your search predilections.

There are a number of search geeks and technologists who will love this, but your average Joe consumer won't cotton to this so easily, I suspect.

Google must tread very carefully as it brings search into the future.

 
 
 
 
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