Friday, 22 May 2009

New digital tools from Google's stable

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GOOGLE, the search giant's new products get at behavior, intentions, even the stars. Google recently unveiled a series of new offerings for Internet search, from mobility and language translation to spreadsheets that arrange information from multiple Web sites on the fly. What the company is really after, however, is building an Internet that more closely mimics the physical world.

The innovations follow Google's recent retreat from projects like putting ads on radio and newspapers. The company may have decided it is more effective to bring more of those media onto the Internet, rather than the other way around, or to make Internet search fulfill an increasing amount of informational needs.

They also come at a time when Google's own search quality is under renewed scrutiny as a much-hyped search engine, called Wolfram Alpha, is about to make its debut. Google's new products reflected a use of search in multiple contexts. When searching from a cell phone, Google looks at things like location and other search results that mobile users have liked to deliver its results. A new opt-in feature incorporates information searches a user has done on his or her own desktop since 40% of queries relate to subjects the user has previously searched. The feature also lets users automatically call a number that the search turns up.

Google showed an application that had been written for its Android mobile operating system. The app allows a user to find constellations in the sky, based both on a user's location as determined by global positioning system and by how the user was holding the phone.

On the desktop, one important new tweak to search (or "product" as the company likes to call its variations) was Search Options, which lets a user drill into various topics by category, type (video, reviews or forums), time (recent, last 24 hours or the past week or year) or with images from Web pages, among others. Review results also include sentiment analysis, indicating positives or negatives in the search results. A timeline can show how frequently a topic has been written about over centuries (and closer), and a "wonder wheel" links offshoots of a main topic. It is an impressive product, and Google's engineers have also thought about the revenues. In a live demo, ads alongside the product changed position with each variation a user tried, reflecting the live advertising auction going on in the background.

In addition, queries in one language (say, Arabic) will offer results in other languages (say, English) with automatic translation of those sites. That exposes a great deal more information to that ad market, as Google operates in 70 languages.

In another product, called Google Squared, the company categorizes topics according to diverse Web sites. A query about small dogs listed breeds, images, weight and height and offered options to add other breeds or category information. The product is still in Google's "Labs" section, so it does not carry advertising, but it may cause further controversy about Google and copyright, since the company is creating novel forms of content out of other people's work.

A product called "Rich Snippets" carried digests of product reviews from sites like Yelp and CNET. Other sites will be included over time, and people can expose their site's information to this service by adding code from RDF and Microformats to the format of their Web pages.

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