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12/7/2009
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Google Search Goes Real Time

Search is changing at Google, with new real-time, voice-driven translation, and image recognition capabilities.

In a flurry of major announcements, Google has reinvented the nature and scope of Internet search, a move likely to leave competitors wondering what hit them.

Google has added real-time results to its search results pages for desktop computers, iPhone, and Android devices.

It has launched a new mobile search technology called Google Goggles that allows users to submit pictures rather that keywords as queries.

And next year it plans to turn mobile devices into what amounts to universal translators.

Google VP of engineering Vic Gundotra and Google Fellow Amit Singhal made the announcements at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif., during Google's 3rd annual review of Internet search technology, an event the company calls "Searchology."

Singhal described real-time search as "one of the most exciting things I've seen in my career." And to judge by the applause in a room full of normally skeptical tech reporters, Singhal was not the only person present to recognize the impact of Google's technical accomplishments.

Marissa Mayer, Google's VP of search products and user experience, moderated the event and described it as a look at the future of search and search innovation.

Search, she said, "is not just about 10 blue links. It's about the best answers."

Mayer explained that Google has been focusing on four aspects of search: modes, media, language, and personalization.

New modes of searching, such as voice-driven and image-driven search, represent a major new commitment for Google, an empire built-on keyword search ads.

Gundotra showed off how far the Google Mobile Search app has come in terms of accurately recognizing the words in spoken queries and delivering relevant results, not only in English but in languages like Mandarin Chinese and Japanese.

Google supports translation between 51 languages and Gundotra said that starting in the first quarter of 2010, near real-time translation will begin to be rolled out for mobile devices.

"Our goal at Google is nothing less than being able to support all the major languages of the world," he said.

Google is also deploying new location-based capabilities for searches, whether conducted through text or voice. The company launched Google Maps on Android 1.6+ devices, available as an update from Android Market. It includes a "What's Nearby" feature for listing the ten closest places of interest.

In a few weeks, this capability will come to iPhones and other Android devices through Google Maps.

Google Goggles, said Gundotra, represents the beginning of Google's journey into computer vision. The service is being launched in Google Labs because it's experimental and can only recognize certain objects.

Google has the capability to do facial recognition, said Gundotra, but has decided to delay implementing it to mull the privacy implications.

Google's real-time search capability is being made possible in part through a series of content partnerships. Having recently struck a deal with Twitter to index tweets, Google has also entered into partnerships with Facebook, MySpace, FriendFeed, Jaiku, and Identi.ca to include public information in Google's real-time index.

Mayer declined to discuss whether Google was paying for access to this content.

Real-time search may not be immediately available to all users, but should be accessible within a day or so.

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