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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.

Google has added a "Show options" link above its list of search results. Clicking on the link loads a left-hand column that allows searchers to slice and dice results, as Mayer put it, using criteria including recency, media type, date, relevance, and presentation format. Using these options, a user could, for example, view search results on a timeline or explore related concepts using the "Wonder Wheel" diagram of related ideas.

Google is also enhancing the descriptive text snippets placed below search results links by scanning for RDFa and Microformats markup data, which Web site owners can provide to communicate specific high-value information in a form that search engines can understand. Google is using this information to integrate data such as restaurant and product review ratings directly into the search result page. "It's a step toward making the whole Internet smarter," said product manager Kavi Goel.

The most ambitious new product is Google Squared, a Google Labs project that will be available later this month. Google Squared provides a way to turn Google queries into a spreadsheet of structured values, one that can be saved for later reference. Google product manager Alex Komoroske demonstrated the product by turning a query for "small dogs" into a spreadsheet that separated relevant dog breed information into separate columns.

Mayer stressed that one of the hardest problems in computer science is unstructured data extraction. Google Squared can be seen as a declaration by Google that it can compete in semantic search, search based on a computed understanding of meaning.

Google software engineer John Taylor demonstrated Sky Map, a new Android application that provides a map of the stars that can be automatically oriented to match the direction faced by the user. It may not be destined for mass appeal, but it provided a potent demonstration of the power of the Android platform and the possible synergies with Google Search.

Back in 2007, when Google introduced its Universal Search initiative to search across multiple media types, the company clearly aimed to defend its position as the leading search engine. In 2009, with Google's March search market share in the United States at almost 64%, according to ComScore, the only thing a Google search can't find is real competition.

InformationWeek has published an independent analysis of enterprise search. Download the report here (registration required).

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