MediaFile

What is Google doing?

A few years ago, web thinker Jeff Jarvis published an homage to the world’s most successful Web search and advertising company titled “What Would Google Do?” These days, the question seems to be, “What is Google doing?”

Google won us over with a revolutionary approach to Web search that made its predecessors seem archaic. It quickly toppled Yahoo as the coolest company on the planet based solely on its efficient and fast way of finding everyone else’s content. Now, though, Google is something entirely different.

What is Google doing? I’m not sure. There may well be a great, bumper-sticker answer. But Google’s actions are too chaotic to come up with a grand, unified theory. It’s toying with apps, mobile software, mobile hardware, mobile phones – and, oh yeah, still dabbles in Web services it decides with zero discussion to terminate with extreme prejudice. It’s one thing to be pulled in all directions as a dance partner, it’s another to have it happen on some carnival ride.

Search has turned out to be only Google’s opening gambit. It still owns just under 70 percent of search market share, and because of that reach about 40 percent of online advertising. For some companies that would be enough, this one, near-perfect service. But Google had bigger ambitions than merely imposing order on the Internet’s chaos.

We got a hint of Google’s plans in 2006, when it paid $1.65 billion – what was its largest acquisition to date – for YouTube. It also gave us Gmail and Google Docs, which dramatically changed users’ attachment to the cloud and boosted their own productivity. A bunch of honest tries, like Wave & Buzz, followed – early misfires in collaboration and social networking. But for all of Google’s innovation and experimentation, it started to feel like Lucy and the football. Rather than keeping what resonated, Google seemed to abruptly end services we had found useful, and had even come to depend on. It shuttered Google Health, a service that maintained all your medical information, and Google 411, a voice-activated directory service.

Facebook’s search has been found

With “Graph Search,” Facebook’s newsearch engine announced Tuesday, the world’s largest social network has finally begun to index a trove of Big Data that’s been piling up for years. Even Facebook probably doesn’t know what’s been deposited in by its 1 billion members. Suddenly there is a way to find out. 

For all its popularity, Facebook has lacked something that could be described as “purpose.” For co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg, sharing isn’t a platitude ‑ it’s world-altering. As he once said: “By giving people the power to share, we’re making the world more transparent.” Yet Facebook is, for the most part, fun and games. It’s also, in the opinion of some, including me, a Faustian bargain that gives the company valuable information with which to make money, and its members the ability to do things they can do any number of other ways. 

For all the information Facebook members share with one another — pictures, opinions, “likes,” preferences, the companies and celebrities they follow — none of it has been searchable. So if you have friends who like science fiction and live nearby, you wouldn’t have known it (unless you, you know, knew it), and that Avatar movie night wouldn’t have happened – or, worse, would have happened alone, like always.

Google sets Zagat free

This morning, Google took the wraps off  how it plans to use Zagat, the popular restaurant guide known for its burgundy pocket books. The Zagat restaurant  listings are now incorporated in Google + and its local service and, more to the point, are now free. People can access more than 35,000 summarized user reviews from Zagat for more than 90 cities across the globe using either Google +, its search function or through maps.

Google said it will continue to publish the guidebooks and expand to other cities like Dubai, Sydney and Melbourne.

Google picked up Zagat for $151 million last September in a move to broaden its offerings for local based content. Founded by Tim and Nina Zagat,  the 30-plus year old eponymous guide  takes customer surveys and compiles them into brief and snappy summaries . It was a pioneer of amassing local restaurant reviews by people but over the years it  faced stiff challenges from upstarts such as Yelp– especially when a majority of Zagat’s content was subscription based.

Google customizes search results with a smattering of your own content

Google rolled out a big change to its search engine on Tuesday that will allow people to find private items, such as online family photos, in their search results.

The new search feature, dubbed “Google Search, plus Your World,” essentially creates customized search results for different users, displaying publicly available Web content alongside any relevant personal online content.

Right now that means search results can feature private photos stored within Google’s Picasa service, as well as photos and posts from Google+, the company’s social network.

Will Google fight Apple’s Siri with Alfred?

Apple has Siri, and now Google has Alfred.

On Tuesday Google said it had acquired the tech company that has developed Alfred, a smartphone app that acts as a “personal assistant” to make recommendations based on your interests and your “context,” such as location, time of day, intent and social information.

According to Clever Sense, the company that created Alfred and that is now part of Google, the app uses artificial intelligence technology to sift through the Web’s vast amount of data and to recommend restaurants, bars and other real-world places that you might like.

That sounds a lot like Siri, the personal assistant technology that comes built-in to Apple latest iPhone. Siri offers a much broader range of capabilities than those that appear to currently be available with Alfred, allowing users to speak into their phone to manage their calendars,  find nearby restaurants and even inquire about the weather.

Google sprinkles search results with social networking, but leaves out Facebook

GOOGSocSearch1Google is turning up the volume on social networking content within its Internet search results.

The company unveiled some changes to its search engine on Thursday that will infuse search results with more social elements, such as links and information shared by your friends on services like Twitter, Quora and Flickr.

It’s easy to see how this improves search: If you’re looking for an accountant for instance, instead of simply getting a list of accountants’ Web sites, Google might include a snippet showing that your friend has posted a Twitter message lauding a particular accountant, and rank that accountant near the top of your search results.

Five things I learned from the genius of Google’s Zeitgeist

The word Zeitgeist is defined as “the spirit of the age.” But the German term was itself a translation by Romanticists of the Latin phrase “genius saeculi.” Those Romanticists didn’t think of “genius” in its modern meaning of an extraordinary mind, but rather its etymological roots of a guardian spirit that watches over people from their birth.

I delve into the etymology of Zeitgeist because it casts an interesting light on the choice by Google to describe its annual summary of search trends, especially when you consider the company’s thoughts on artificial intelligence. Google’s search engine is hardly a guardian spirit, but if it doesn’t exactly watch over our online lives, it does watch them carefully enough – remembering data points it collects in each search and distilling them into interesting trends.

Some of the general trends Google’s Zeitgeist for 2010 discovered are interesting, if hardly profound. Here are a few insights gleaned from all the searches done through Google search engines in the last year.

Google to speed up searches with visual Web site ‘previews’

Google’s search engine has a new feature that may cause Web surfers to do less…Web surfing.

The company’s new Instant Previews announced on Tuesday provides visual snapshots of Web pages directly within the list of search results, making it easier and quicker to home in on the Web page you’re looking for.

Instant Previews, which will be rolled out during the next few days, puts a small icon of a magnifying glass next to most of Google’s search results. Click on the magnifying glass and Google serves up a screenshot of the Web page, highlighting the section of the page that’s relevant to your search query.GOOGInstantPreview

Yahoo unfurls accordion to revamp search

Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz once played in an accordion band, so perhaps it’s fitting that the ole squeezebox has figured in to Yahoo’s products as the central motif in a revamped Internet search experience.

Yahoo has unveiled a snazzy new search interface that lets users flip between a stack of vertical tabs to view different types of results. Search on the rapper Lil Wayne for example, and you can quickly tab between groups of results like albums, videos and Twitter messages.

YahooAccordion1The new search interface, which the tech blogs have nicknamed ‘the accordion’, represents Yahoo’s first big overhaul of its search product since partnering with Microsoft.

Google’s Brin: Make smartphone apps searchable

For more than a decade, GOOGLE/Google has reigned supreme as the main gateway to online information.

But with consumers increasingly accessing the Internet through specialized apps on smartphones like Apple’s iPhone, Google’s Web search engine could be at risk of playing a smaller role in the Internet’s next phase.

Google co-founder Sergey Brin has an answer: Make apps searchable.

On the sidelines of the press event in San Francisco to unveil Google Instant on Wednesday, Brin offered some thoughts on the future of apps and search.