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Google's Public Decade: 10 Search Innovations

Google's Amit Singhal looks back at 10 years of search improvements.
10 Ways Google Must Improve Android
10 Ways Google Must Improve Android
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Ten years ago, Google went public, offering its shares for $85. The company sold more than 22 million shares on its first day of trading, leaving it valued at $27.2 billion.

Today, Google is worth almost 15 times as much, about $397 billion, thanks to its thriving search advertising business. Google controls about 68% of the global desktop search market and about 91% of the mobile search market, according to NetMarketShare.

Amit Singhal joined Google 14 years ago and is now senior vice president at the company in charge of its core search ranking group. In a post on Google+, he shares what he considers to be the 10 most significant search developments over the past 10 years.

1. Autocomplete
Autocompletion of search queries has saved billions of keystrokes. But it could cost Google in legal fees: Earlier this month, a Hong Kong court allowed Albert Yeung Sau-shing, a local businessman, to sue Google for defamation because autocomplete suggests his name is associated with organized crime groups called "triads."

2. Translations
Singhal notes that Google handles billions of translations a day in 80 languages. It's not perfect but it's very good as a basic way to explore languages that would otherwise be baffling. And you know it will get better.

[Get up to speed on Facebook's new chat tool. Read Facebook Messenger: 5 Misconceptions.]

3. Directions and traffic
"Search used to be just about webpages, but our amazing Maps team made it possible to search the real world too," says Singhal. Getting to this point, however, wasn't easy. Google ran into its share of roadblocks: public resistance, security concerns, regulatory skepticism, and a WiFi data gathering scandal. If only Google had a map that could show it the way to launch a product without alienating people.

4. Universal search
Before Google implemented universal search, it maintained a variety of distinct "vertical" search engines, such as Video Search and Book Search. Universal search brought those links together so they could be searched from the Web Search box. It was a major improvement and a blow to specialty search companies that focused on a particular industry, such as travel and local search. Universal search demoted every specialty search engine to a feature it could add at any time, perhaps with an acquisition or two.

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5. Mobile and new screens
Search used to be desktop product. Now it's mobile, too. But search beyond the desktop requires alternative modes of input. Google is already on that, with Voice Search.

6. Voice search
No one likes typing on mobile devices. Luckily for Google and for its users, its speech recognition and natural language comprehension keeps getting better.

7. Actions
Google's Search app can perform a limited number of actions, mostly using Android devices. You can tell it, for example, to remind you of something when you're in a particular location, with the assistance of Google Now.

8. The Knowledge Graph
To help Google Search move beyond finding keywords in documents to understanding questions, Google built (and acquired) the Knowledge Graph. But as Picasso reportedly said, "Computers are useless. They can only give you answers." (Then again, IBM's Watson can phrase answers in the form of a question, Jeopardy-style.)

9. Info just for you
Google Search, if you let it, can access your Gmail, to provide answers about flight reservations or package deliveries. It's a perfect example of the tradeoff between privacy and convenience. If history is any guide, never bet on privacy.

10. Answers before you have to ask
With Google Now and Google Search, you can get updates about relevant information, such as traffic jams or upcoming appointments, without even asking. The endgame: Make purchases without even thinking.

"We've come a long way in 10 years -- on Google and so many other general and specialized search apps, it's now so much better than just the 10 blue links of years past," Singhal concludes.

That is, when those blue links of years past haven't been erased under the "right to be forgotten."

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