What is Google Squared?
There is a new frontier in the world of web searches. Gone are the days when searching giants like Google and Yahoo could depend on the use of “keyword searches” for the best and most accurate search results. The web is all abuzz with the news of new search programs in development, like Wolfram Alpha which will attempt to approach web searches in a new and different way.
The problem is data. The internet is crammed full of data that can’t be easily searched for simply through the use of “keywords”. The new frontiers in the world of web searching is a web search program’s abilty to take all of the unstructured data spread all over the Web and treat it as though it were in fact structured or organized in a database for ease of access.
It is easier for a search to get answers out of this kind of database — one where every bit of data is labeled, categorized, or neatly presented. Unfortunately, as the volume of info on the web continues to growing, the old standby of the web (the “keyword search”) is approaching its eventual breaking point. What is that breaking point?
The best estimate for the current number of websites is somewhere around 100 million — that’s a huge number of active sources of info for a simple keyword search to mine. Think of web searching as the proverbial search for a needle in a haystack, where the needle shrinks in size as the haystack continues to grow. It isn’t just a problem of too much info to mine, either. The internet has evolved over time, and will no doubt continue to do so. With the advent of the so called “social web” in the last few years, web searching grew even more complicated. “Tagging” and other social tools made certain kinds of web searches infinitely complex. If you haven’t run a simple keyword search in a little while, give it a go. You’ll likely find the results garbled at best, and the sheer scope of the search results will limit your access to the kinds of answers you’re looking for.
Complicating things even further is the fact that the internet will soon become more dependent upon “semantic searching”, where search engines will have to develop a sense of “reasoning”. How do semantic searches controlled by a device with artificial reasoning benefit web users? To put it simply, users of the internet are growing in sophistication, and their search demands are growing right along with them. The recent appearance of Google’s “News Timeline” is a small example of this. Using “Google News Timeline”, web browsers have access to a wide range of information alongside their generic search, including events in history, related results, and content from print magazines and other periodicals. In layman’s terms, web searches must become more intuitive, or risk becoming outmoded.
Adding structure to the Web is one way to make sense of all the data clogging up our Google searchs, and Google knows this. The programming wizards at Google are starting the tackle this problem through a Google Labs project named “Google Squared”. Google Squared is a program that extracts data from Web pages and presents the search results via an online spreadsheet. For example — a search for “House cats” will returns a spreadsheet featuring names, descriptions, weights, and other information about the various kinds of house cats in neat columns and rows. It may not be the “sexiest” app that Google has ever developed, but it does show Google’s commitment to creating solutions for problems that may pop up in the future. Call it “future problem solving”.
Google Squared looks for data structures on the web that contain factual information and processes it in a spreadsheet. This may seem like a simple function, but according to Google, it takes a tremendous amount of power to create such a spreadsheet, and the very nature of Google searches must be altered. Rather than looking for keywords, Google Squared looks for keywords AND attaches a significance to them that is more akin to what a human would be looking for. Google Squared attempts to understand WHY you’d be searching for “House cats”, and presents what it “thinks” is relevant information.
This new technology has many applications for a wide range of user initiated keyword searches, including searches for products, scientific data, health-related information, etc. Google is not alone in their quest to make a search engine that is “semantic” — there are literally dozens of startups trying to impose the same kind of structure on the web. As mentioned before, Wolfram Alpha is one of these high profile startups, set to launch in the next week. Wolfram Alpha approaches semantic searches in a different way than Google — Alpha simply digs through massive amounts of information it has already added to its own database, allowing for a mine of info that the search engine can dig through in the blink of an eye. In that this kind of search is a new way of thinking about information on the web, there is a much hyped rivalry occuring between Google Squared and Wolfram Alpha — and we all know that competition can drive rival companies to new heights of success. Let’s hope the friendly tug of war between these two new search motifs will come up with something incredible, a new era of web searching.
A video of a test run of Google Squared has made its way on the web. In this video, a search for “spaceships” returns some interesting if completely irrelevant results. Shown in the search return are a Corvette automobile, and a Naval missile carrier. Clearly, Google has some work to do before they release Google Squared to the general public, outside of the comfortable realm of Google Labs.