When Google added a social layer to its search bar, it seemed that the company might have gone too far in using social media to enhance its other products. But the search engine’s newest feature, the Knowledge Graph, will use the connections between particular people, places, and things – not friend recommendations – to deliver better search results. The enhancements are already rolling out to English-speaking users in the U.S. for Web, and are optimized for most iOS and Android devices.
Most of the action occurs in a separate panel to the right of the search results. Amit Singhal, Google’s SVP of Engineering used a search for the Taj Mahal to demonstrate how the results look. While the top search result is a link to the Wikipedia entry, the right panel contains a wiki-style entry with a map and statistical data about India’s famous landmark. Below that are suggestions for other architectural wonders that people have looked up, as well as another building and a musician whose name contains the phrase “Taj Mahal.”
How did they choose what to include? “For that, we go back to our users and study in aggregate what they’ve been asking Google about each item,” explained Singhal in a blog post. “For example, people are interested in knowing what books Charles Dickens wrote, whereas they’re less interested in what books Frank Lloyd Wright wrote, and more in what buildings he designed.”
So far, the biographies appear to be limited to public figures who already have Wikepedia entries, but the tool also understands relationships between people. A search for Randi Zuckerberg also pulled up a suggestion for her brother, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
But that’s not to say that the social graph is going away entirely. Lady Gaga’s most recent post on her Google+ fan page also turned up in the search results just beneath her biographical information, picture, and top songs.
Competing networks may complain that Google is prioritizing its own content over theirs, but they can’t complain too much. In the case of Lady Gaga, links to the singer’s Facebook page and Twitter account were still on the first page of the search results.
The new panel rests where the paid search results have gone in the past, drawing a visual distinction between the search engine’s page-ranking algorithm and its knowledge repository.
The new search tool is also optimized for mobile devices. Instead of having to squint to see all the links and panels on one screen, people can tap and swipe to get to the results they need.
The new search function is still a work in progress, but the layout is clean and seems to include a lot of information about well-known people and places.
Singhal said he’s confident that the improvements are “moving us closer to the ‘Star Trek computer’ that I’ve always dreamt of building.”