Google Dec. 7 unleashed perhaps its most significant search engine enhancements in years, adding real-time search results aggregated from Facebook, Twitter and MySpace and turning on its Google Goggles mobile visual search application in Google Labs.
Google Fellow Amit Singhal, the company's resident expert for search algorithms, and Vic Gundotra, the vice president of engineering leading Google's mobile charge, unveiled the new technologies at a media event at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif.
Google is currently defending its 65 percent market share from renewed attacks by Microsoft's Bing search engine. Microsoft just consummated a deal with Yahoo that will give Microsoft control of almost 30 percent of the search market.
Key among the new features is a real-time search stream that speedily indexes Web content and surfaces results for users. Singhal said this will include all content from popular microblogging service Twitter, MySpace and Facebook's FriendFeed property, as well as public profile content from Facebook.
What is real-time search, Google style? Users searching for information on events that just happened or who want to know what people are writing about something right now can search Google and find Twitter tweets and just-published news articles and blog posts on the topic from all over the Web.
Users may also click on "Latest results" or select "Latest" from the search options menu to view a full page of live tweets, blogs, news and other content scrolling right on Google. Users can also filter results to see only "Updates" from microblogs like Twitter, FriendFeed and Jaiku. Latest results and the new search options are also accessible via Apple iPhones and Android devices.
As with most features in Google's core search, the real-time search feature is very simple, even if the math behind it is mind-boggling. Real-time search results appear in the middle of the search results page in a small box with a scroll bar that lets users go back to any tweets or other results that streamed by too quickly to click on. There is also a pause button that lets users put the stream on hold.
The new features will be rolling out in the next few days and will be available globally in English. Users who find they can't access the features directly by going to Google may be able to access them here, or by navigating to Google Trends and clicking on any of the hot topics.
"Google's real-time search is Google's relevance technology meeting the real-time Web," Singhal said. "Relevance is the foundation of this product ... When they are relevant, we'll rank these latest results to show the freshest information right on the search results page."
During a demo, Google Product Manager Dylan Casey searched on "Obama" and saw real-time results about the president. Users can try this for themselves by searching for Obama on Google.com.
In another example, Casey searched for Google Goggles, the mobile visual search application in Google Labs that Gundotra had announced less than an hour before. Tweets and blog posts about the application streamed in.
"This is the first time ever any search engine has integrated the real-time Web into the results page," Singhal said.
Singhal may have forgotten that several niche search engines, such as Collecta and CrowdEye, offer real-time results. Also, Microsoft created Bing Twitter, a special site that surfaces Twitter tweets in real time.
So this is not exactly a new concept, but the fact that the leading search engine is now offering this for all of its search results is impressive and underscores the company's determination to defend its turf from upstart Bing, as well as to keep from becoming marginalized by popular social sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
Gundotra also unveiled several mobile search features, including Search by Voice in Japanese; What's Nearby, a location-based feature on Google Maps for Android 1.6+ devices; and the aforementioned Google Goggles computer vision technology. Read more about those features and applications here.