The significance of Google's latest improvements to its core search engine probably won't be known for months, and by that time, more improvements will surely follow.
"We're downright twitchy when it comes to making improvements to search. We made more than an improvement a day over the past year," said Marissa Mayer, vice president of search products and user experience at Google (NASDAQ: GOOG).
Mayer and other executives spoke today at the Searchology media event here at Google headquarters where several improvements to Google's search engine were shown publicly for the first time.
In a later informal exchange with reporters, Mayer took exception to the oft-quoted phrase "Google dominates search" as part of a reporter's question. .
"Google has a large share of the market, but is by no means dominant," said Mayer. "Search is really getting to be a competitive space with lots of innovation and some of the old players upgrading. It keeps us on our toes."
Search guru Danny Sullivan said there was no blockbuster in today's news likely to push Google share's much higher, which is already about 64 percent in the U.S., according to March comScore figures. Yahoo is next at 20 percent, with Microsoft in third place with eight percent.
Among the new features, Google introduced several new ways for users to "slice and dice" search results after choosing "Show Options" from the results. For example, you can click to filter only certain types of results such as videos, forums or, reviews.
A search for "Star Trek" and a click on Reviews gives a long list of review links related to the movie's release. You can also search by time, including results from the last 24 hours, week or year.
"Google's constantly tuning its search engine and these enhancements make it more useful," Sullivan, who heads SearchEngineLand, told InternetNews.com. "But some of these things look better on paper than they are practical for most users."
Sullivan notes, for example, that news-related searches are the ones that are most time sensitive and Google already offers the most recent results for those at its Google News page.
Google Squared and the Wonder Wheel
Sullivan was more intrigued by Google Squared, a service coming out of Google Labs that's due to go live later this month. Squared takes the metadata of results and presents them in a table or spreadsheet fashion of rows and columns. In the demo, a search for small dogs resulted in a rich chart of pictures of various dogs with a row of relevant information next to them.
"Squared looks interesting to play with and see if it's dependable," said Sullivan.
Another new feature rolling out today under the options column is Wonder Wheel which displays results and alternatives in a visual format. For example, a "wonder wheel" for the term "Yahoo" shows a star shape with Yahoo in the middle and rays leading out to related links including Yahoo Chat, Yahoo Video, Yahoo Finance and Yahoo Widgets.
Udi Manber, a Google vice president and head of its core search team, kicked off the event with an overview of Google's current focus. He said we're at a key point in history, where for the first time we're in a position to better understand people and that computer science can help.
"If you think about it, search is a big part of this, perhaps leading the way. It's kind of like the new rocket science, working quietly in the background," said Manber.
As one example, he noted how his daughter typed 'griffin music palo alto' into Google to try and find a local music store. The store's actually spelled Gryphon Stringed Instruments, but Google came up with right link in the first result.
"That's very hard to do and easy to take for granted. We try to be fresh, relevant and fast and sometimes even that's not enough," said Manber.
When user's misspell a term in a search, Google usually provides results headed by a "Did you mean" reference with the correct spelling.
"If users can't spell, that's our problem. Or they don't know how to form a query or the Web or even if the Web is too slow. That's our problem," he said.
Mayer agreed. "The big thing is we're not teaching you a particular syntax, but we're saying trust your keyword and we'll present options."
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