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5/12/2009
03:24 PM
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Google Refining Search For Understanding, Releases Sky Map

The company hopes Google Search Options, Google Squared, and Rich Snippets will help it better recognize user intent.

Not satisfied to keep pure search the killer app it is, Google is shifting the way it wants you to search the Internet.

At a media event held on Google's Mountain View, Calif., campus on Tuesday, Google executives discussed the state of search, an art that VP of engineering Ubi Manber described as "the new rocket science."

The company also introduced three new search features -- Google Search Options, Google Squared, and Rich Snippets -- and a new astronomical search application for Android mobile phones called Sky Map.

Manber said that if the 20th century was about conquering nature, the 21st century is about understanding people. And search, he said, is a big part of that.

"I can't claim that we already understand, but I think it's a good start," he said.

What Google engineers want their search engine to understand is user intent, the thing that the user is really asking about in an ambiguous query.

Search, he said, has to be fast, relevant, comprehensive, and fresh. But that's not enough. Search has to solve users' problems.

"If users can't spell, that's our problem," he said.

Google is eager to own its users' problems because solving them makes users happy. And happy customers come back.

Referring to Google's "Did you mean?" search suggestions, software engineer Patrick Riley observed, "People love the fact that they can type something in that they don't know how to spell and, more often than not, Google suggests the right query."

If, as Manber suggested, Google's religion is speed, its creed is user happiness.

And what's not to like about Google Search Options? It "opens up whole new ways of searching that haven't really been available," said Marissa Mayer, Google's VP of search products and user experience.

Like Google's Advanced Search, Google Search Options provides a variety of ways to make search queries more precise or to exclude unwanted data.

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