While that policy irked a whole lot of people, we're about to see if it adds enough value to our search experience to make people forget all of that bad press. Users of Google Docs may already have noticed an offer earlier today to do research on topics found in our Google Drive (check out Research underneath the Tools dropdown menu in Docs). This is just a small part of the Knowledge Graph effort. According to Google's Official Blog,
The Knowledge Graph enables you to search for things, people or places that Google knows about—landmarks, celebrities, cities, sports teams, buildings, geographical features, movies, celestial objects, works of art and more—and instantly get information that’s relevant to your query. This is a critical first step towards building the next generation of search, which taps into the collective intelligence of the web and understands the world a bit more like people do.
Google’s Knowledge Graph isn’t just rooted in public sources such as Freebase, Wikipedia and the CIA World Factbook. It’s also augmented at a much larger scale—because we’re focused on comprehensive breadth and depth. It currently contains more than 500 million objects, as well as more than 3.5 billion facts about and relationships between these different objects. And it’s tuned based on what people search for, and what we find out on the web.
So not only does the Knowledge graph present results based on everything that Google knows about you, it also indexes key data sources on the web and keeps them somewhat compartmentalized from the rest of the noise online.
Google outlines three main advantages to this approach
- Find the right thing
- Get the best summary
- Go deeper and broader
This approach, however, will more likely than not bring up all of the same privacy concerns that plague Google but don't seem to affect Yahoo!, Microsoft, Facebook, or any of the other companies that collect large amounts of data on users. Unfortunately for those most concerned about privacy, there isn't really a good way to sort through billions of web pages worth of data without having some massively parallel computing match sites and data to your general needs.
This is ultimately why, in my opinion, Google will win most of its battles (and definitely the war) with Facebook. Sure, Facebook knows its users well. However, search, beyond all else, remains the killer app of the Internet. As we memorize less and look up more, store everything in the cloud, and rely on the web for everything from movie reviews to relationship advice, we need tools that can get beyond a really well-formed query. Google calls it "things, not strings", referring to the search engine's understanding of the "thing" you're looking for instead of the "string" that it has to simply parse and match by keyword.
Call it spin, call it subterfuge, call it whatever, but I think Amit Singhal, SVP, Engineering, really nailed the message here:
We hope this added intelligence will give you a more complete picture of your interest, provide smarter search results, and pique your curiosity on new topics. We’re proud of our first baby step—the Knowledge Graph—which will enable us to make search more intelligent, moving us closer to the "Star Trek computer" that I've always dreamt of building. Enjoy your lifelong journey of discovery, made easier by Google Search, so you can spend less time searching and more time doing what you love.
Not one to trust Google? Don't worry, Bing will do this sort of semantic search soon, too. They just won't do it as well and, for some reason, no one will call them out on their data mining.