Google is pushing search in new directions with universal search and personalization. It's the leader in Web search by a large margin, and doesn't look to give up its crown anytime soon. And the company has more search tricks up its sleeves, including Google Reader search and potentially a hosted enterprise search product.
Google Reader, the company's syndicated newsreader, is search-less today, despite significant demand for the ability to search through news feeds and other RSS subscriptions. A few hacks to search through Google Reader feeds have even popped up on the Internet. The Google Reader team "gets the message," according to Google software engineer Matt Cutts, and Google Reader search is one of the top priorities on the team's list.
Today, Google's enterprise search product is a piece of integrated hardware and software. Tomorrow, it could well be a hosted service, if and when Google figures out a model that properly maintains the privacy of corporate documents. The beginnings of this are already there: Google recently released its Custom Search Engine Business Edition, an ad-free, $100 per year and up service to search corporate Web sites.
That's just the start, though. "Just like other applications, search is a natural fit for software-as-a-service," said Nitin Mangtani, lead product manager for Google Enterprise, in an interview. "We are a little bit further away from us crawling intranet search in a hosted service, but that's not out of the question. You could see that coming from us."
Another goal for Google is to make its search engine able to parse meaning in the language of queries and results. The beginnings are there: Google results can include synonyms and variations of words, but there's much more to be done. "We really want to go into language and understand what people mean," Cutts said. Other companies like Hakia and Powerset are currently developing search engines that use language rules to try to figure out the meaning of queries and indexed pages.
In other developments, Google is pushing heavily into personalization with products like iGoogle that let people see their own search history and have results catered to them personally. Google also recently introduced universal search, which brings back results that go beyond simple Web pages. Now, a search for Paris Hilton will return an aggregated list of images, Google Desktop results, Web results, and news about the socialite hotel heiress.
Google also has longer range plans. Google Enterprise can "cluster" results, automatically organizing them into categories. A search for Apple may come back with clusters labeled "fruit" and "computer," for example. Don't expect this from Google Web search in the near future, however. "We have a really pragmatic approach, if you put out a query, how long does it take for a person to get to the information, and it turns out clustering doesn't always help with that," Cutts said.
Tagging is another search technology of which Google seems wary. "One of the worries about tag clouds [visual depictions of multiple tags] is that whenever something gets big, inevitably people will show up to try to make money off of it by gaming the system," said Cutts, who heads up the company's Web spam team along with his role as search ambassador. He said that any tagging mechanism would have to be protected from spammers, for example by employing captchas -- those little scrambled images of a random sequence of letters -- to make sure taggers are human.