Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) is introducing a new tool, designed to make its search engine smarter.
The new feature that debuted Wednesday draws from a Google-built database of more than 500 million people, places and commonly requested things to provide a summary of vital information alongside the main search results.
Here’s how Google describes its new information warehouse called “Knowledge Graph:”
“Search is a lot about discovery—the basic human need to learn and broaden your horizons. But searching still requires a lot of hard work by you, the user. So today I’m really excited to launch the Knowledge Graph, which will help you discover new information quickly and easily.
“Take a query like [taj mahal]. For more than four decades, search has essentially been about matching keywords to queries. To a search engine the words [taj mahal] have been just that—two words.
“But we all know that [taj mahal] has a much richer meaning. You might think of one of the world’s most beautiful monuments, or a Grammy Award-winning musician, or possibly even a casino in Atlantic City, NJ. Or, depending on when you last ate, the nearest Indian restaurant. It’s why we’ve been working on an intelligent model—in geek-speak, a ‘graph’—that understands real-world entities and their relationships to one another: things, not strings.
“The Knowledge Graph enables you to search for things, people or places that Google knows about—landmarks, celebrities, cities, sports teams, buildings, geographical features, movies, celestial objects, works of art and more—and instantly get information that’s relevant to your query. This is a critical first step towards building the next generation of search, which taps into the collective intelligence of the web and understands the world a bit more like people do.“
Google spent the past two years poring through online encyclopedia Wikipedia, the CIA Factbook and other sources to expand a database of 12 million items that it picked up as part of its 2010 acquisition of Metaweb.
The “Knowledge Graph” is an attempt by the Internet’s dominant search engine to provide answers as quickly and concisely as possible so users don’t have to sift through a hodgepodge of Web links displayed on the main results page.
The nuggets of information will appear in boxes to the right of the main search results. Google will gradually roll out the feature to its logged-in users in the U.S. during the next few days before extending it to a wider audience.
The changes come as one of Google’s biggest rivals, Internet social networking leader Facebook Inc., prepares to complete an initial public offering of stock that is dominating the technology spotlight. The Knowledge Graph’s unveiling comes a week after the second-largest search engine, Microsoft Corp.’s Bing, announced an overhaul that will highlight more information mined from Facebook — insights that typically don’t show up in Google’s results.
How It Works
The Knowledge Graph will work in different ways.
If a person enters a search request, such as “kings,” that can be interpreted in several ways, Google will now display a box on the right side of the page listing several other options, such as the Los Angeles Kings hockey team, the Sacramento Kings basketball team and the Kings TV show. Clicking on any of these choices will deliver results exclusively devoted to that topic.
Queries on specific people or places will generate thumbnails that list key statistics about the topic. Google bases its assumption on what people are most likely to want to know on an analysis of past search requests.
Google is hailing the Knowledge Graph as an important step in Internet search’s evolution. The company is trying to make the difficult transition from merely presenting a list of Web links to delivering the kinds of responses that people expect when they pose a question to an expert.
“This used to be the stuff of dreams because we didn’t really know how to accomplish it,” said Amit Singhal, a Google fellow who has been studying search for 22 years. “The dream has always been to understand things like you and I do, so this this really feels like a sea change.”
Three Key Benefits
In the blog, Google says Knowledge Graph improves search in three essential ways:
1. Find the right thing
Language can be ambiguous—do you mean Taj Mahal the monument, or Taj Mahal the musician? Now Google understands the difference, and can narrow your search results just to the one you mean—just click on one of the links to see that particular slice of results:
This is one way the Knowledge Graph makes Google Search more intelligent—your results are more relevant because we understand these entities, and the nuances in their meaning, the way you do.
2. Get the best summary
With the Knowledge Graph, Google can better understand your query, so we can summarize relevant content around that topic, including key facts you’re likely to need for that particular thing. For example, if you’re looking for Marie Curie, you’ll see when she was born and died, but you’ll also get details on her education and scientific discoveries:
How do we know which facts are most likely to be needed for each item? For that, we go back to our users and study in aggregate what they’ve been asking Google about each item. For example, people are interested in knowing what books Charles Dickens wrote, whereas they’re less interested in what books Frank Lloyd Wright wrote, and more in what buildings he designed.
The Knowledge Graph also helps us understand the relationships between things. Marie Curie is a person in the Knowledge Graph, and she had two children, one of whom also won a Nobel Prize, as well as a husband, Pierre Curie, who claimed a third Nobel Prize for the family. All of these are linked in our graph. It’s not just a catalog of objects; it also models all these inter-relationships. It’s the intelligence between these different entities that’s the key.
3. Go deeper and broader
Finally, the part that’s the most fun of all—the Knowledge Graph can help you make some unexpected discoveries. You might learn a new fact or new connection that prompts a whole new line of inquiry. Do you know where Matt Groening, the creator of the Simpsons (one of my all-time favorite shows), got the idea for Homer, Marge and Lisa’s names? It’s a bit of a surprise:
We’ve always believed that the perfect search engine should understand exactly what you mean and give you back exactly what you want. And we can now sometimes help answer your next question before you’ve asked it, because the facts we show are informed by what other people have searched for. For example, the information we show for Tom Cruise answers 37 percent of next queries that people ask about him. In fact, some of the most serendipitous discoveries I’ve made using the Knowledge Graph are through the magical “People also search for” feature. One of my favorite books is The White Tiger, the debut novel by Aravind Adiga, which won the prestigious Man Booker Prize. Using the Knowledge Graph, I discovered three other books that had won the same prize and one that won the Pulitzer. I can tell you, this suggestion was spot on!
Relevancy of Links
The Knowledge Graph also will help address another problem vexing Google.
As websites seeking traffic have learned to manipulate commonly requested search terms, their links have been appearing more frequently on the first page of Google’s results, even though they might not have the most relevant information. Google periodically tries to remove the rubbish by tweaking its ranking system, only to have websites figure out new ways to outfox the search formula.
If the Knowledge Graph works like it’s supposed to, it will give visitors less reason to leave Google’s website.
Although Google says that isn’t its main objective, anything that gives people a reason to hang around for longer periods, and perhaps enter more search requests, promises to help the company make more money. Google distributes ads all over the Web, but it reaps its highest profit margins from commercial links that are clicked on its own website.
Anything that keeps people on Google longer is likely to amplify complaints that the company is more interested in promoting its own services than pointing visitors to other helpful Internet destinations.
Singhal doesn’t see it that way. “As we answer more of our users’ questions, we save them time,” he said. “Time is the only quantity that we can’t make more of. When people save time, people search more. The Web gets more traffic and all boats rise.”