On Wednesday, Google outlined plans to develop a universal search model that would offer up Web sites, video, news, and other related results -- all on the same page.
Dubbed "universal search," Google's vision for the future of its search service is to scour all its content sources, compare and rank all the information in real time, and deliver integrated search results that offer users precisely what they are looking for.
Marissa Mayer, vice president of search products and user experience at Google, explained the announcement with a reminder that the company's focus has always been making users' search experience as simple and straightforward as possible.
"The ultimate goal of universal search is to break down the silos of information that exist on the Web and provide the very best answer every time a user enters a query," Mayer said in a statement. "While we still have a long way to go, today's announcements are a big step in that direction."
Google said it is in the process of deploying a new technical infrastructure that will enable the search engine to handle the computationally intensive tasks required to produce universal search results. When all systems are go, users will no longer have to visit several different Google search properties to find a wide array of information on a particular topic.
Here's Google's reasoning: A user searching for information on the Star Wars character Darth Vader is likely interested in all the information related to the character and the actor -- not just Web pages that mention the movie. Google plans to deliver a single set of blended search results that might include a humorous parody of the movie, images of the Darth Vader character, news reports on the latest George Lucas film, as well as Web sites focused on the actor James Earl Jones -- all ranked in order of relevance to the query.
Universal search won't look much different to users that have been searching with Google's OneBox, which the universal search technology will replace, according to Greg Sterling, principal analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence. He described universal search as an effort to bring conventional and vertical search together.
"The most obvious and striking change is the inclusion of video in search results. In some cases, such as Google Video or YouTube, the streams will be watchable from a player embedded in the results pages," Sterling said, noting Google's laundry list of announcements on Wednesday are an attempt to stay ahead of the competition. The strategy also exposes vertical content that isn't as exposed, he added, such as Google Books.
In addition to the univeral search technology, the company also is releasing the first stage of an upgraded ranking mechanism that automatically and objectively compares different types of information. Google search results still will be ranked automatically by algorithms.
"Google has continued to concentrate on improving the quality of search," Udi Manber, vice president of engineering at Google, said in a statement. "The level and speed of search innovation at Google has increased. Most of this innovation addresses basic ranking algorithms and is often not obvious to users. Users just see more accurate results, more often, in more languages, which is our primary goal."
Google also announced a new experimental version of its popular search service, called Google Experimental, available on Google Labs. The test site lets users try out some of the latest search experiments and innovations in exchange for their feedback.
One of the first experiments to be featured on the site enables users to view their search results on a map or timeline. For instance, when people search for "Albert Einstein" on Google Experimental, they can choose to view the search results on a map that shows locations mentioned within Web pages about Albert Einstein or on a timeline that illustrates the history of Albert Einstein's life.
New Navigation Features
New dynamically generated navigation links have been added above the search results to suggest additional information that is relevant to a user's query.
For example, a search for "python" will now generate links to Google Blog Search, Google Book Search, Google Groups, and Google Code, to let the user know there is additional information on his or her query in each of those areas. As a result, users can find a wider array of information on a particular topic, including data types he or she might not have initially considered.
Google's homepage and several applications also have been updated with a new navigation bar to provide easier access to popular Google products. Now, instead of having links above the Google.com homepage search box, users will see a navigation bar on the top left side of the page with various Google search properties and popular products including Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Docs.