Google today launched and demoed an array of products intended to make search more relevant and convenient. While Google’s demos were superior to those offered by Microsoft at its own big search press conference last week (with the possible exception of the new smoothly integrated Bing Maps Beta), they also notably excluded significant efforts to make search more relevant by using social connections.
Google’s most significant announcement today is that the search engine will bring real-time results, including public updates from Twitter, Facebook Pages, MySpace, FriendFeed, Jaiku and identi.ca directly onto its Google.com results pages. (The product, set to roll out over the next couple of days, will also be available on Android and iPhone.)
Real-time updates will live-update onto the results page into a scrollable box. They will be chosen based on factors including query hotness, the quality of the author, URL resolution and query registration, and will be filtered for spam. Users can also dive deeper into an “updates” tab and see fast-rising topics on Google Trends’ new “hot topics” list. (If real-time has not been rolled out to your Google account yet, you can force your way onto it by searching from the “search latest” box at the bottom of the front page of Google Trends.)
Google also demoed capabilities that utilize the built-in camera, microphone and GPS information available on many phones. “When you take that camera and you connect it to the cloud it becomes an eye. The microphone connected to the cloud becomes an ear,” said Vic Gundotra, Google VP Engineering. Because a phone’s location is the same as its owners, “it’s become the most intimate and personal of your personal computing devices.”
Vision: Google Goggles, available in Google Labs today, is the company’s first big computer vision play. Users can search using a picture of a book, landmark or CD cover, and send it up to Google, which analyzes the image, matches it against its 1-billion image index, and sends best matches back down. (By contrast, Amazon has a similar product that uses crowd-sourcing via Mechanical Turk.) Though the product comes via Google’s 2006 acquisition of facial recognition company Neven Vision, the company said it would not be analyzing faces until it can reconcile privacy issues.
Location: Gundotra also demoed a new location product called “Nearby Now” for Google Mobile Maps for Android that helps users find nearby businesses and see how highly reviewed they are by building out reverse look-up given users’ latitude and longitude. He said a coming version of Google Product Search would also cross-check local product inventory to say whether any searched-for product is in stock at a nearby store. Noting that more than 40 percent of mobile Google queries result from a user selecting a choice from Google Suggest, Gundotra said that product would also be refined to suggest queries based on where users are located (so “re” might be most likely to kick off “Red Sox” for a Boston user, and “REI” for a San Francisco user).
Voice: Gundotra showed off voice search in Japanese, added today to existing products for English and Mandarin, and said to expect a rapid acceleration of support for other languages in 2010. He also showed off a use of Google as a voice translator from one language to another, saying it was a “concept demo.”