TR: Companies such as Ask and Powerset are betting that the future is in natural-language search, which lets people use real, useful sentences instead of potentially ambiguous keywords. What is Google doing with natural language?
PN: We think what’s important about natural language is the mapping of words onto the concepts that users are looking for. But we don’t think it’s a big advance to be able to type something as a question as opposed to keywords. Typing “What is the capital of France?” won’t get you better results than typing “capital of France.” But understanding how words go together is important. To give some examples, “New York” is different from “York,” but “Vegas” is the same as “Las Vegas,” and “Jersey” may or may not be the same as “New Jersey.” That’s a natural-language aspect that we’re focusing on. Most of what we do is at the word and phrase level; we’re not concentrating on the sentence. We think it’s important to get the right results rather than change the interface.
TR: How much will Google search become personalized to individual users?
PN: We’re doing some of that in various places. One good example is in news personalization, where we give recommendations for news articles. There, it’s easier to do than in larger Web databases, because there’s a limited number of news stories. We track what news stories you look at, and we compare it to other people. And that seems to work out well. It’s harder to apply it to something as vast as the whole Web, but we’re starting with the easy parts.
TR: Where do you see Google search in two to five years?
PN: You’ll see integration of various kinds of content. We’re getting into speech recognition and all the kinds of interfaces on phones, where you have a tiny screen and awkward keyboard. You’ll see that gaining in importance. You’ll see integration of our various properties. We used to put the onus on the user and ask them if they wanted Web search or image search or video search. Now we’re trying to solve that for them and serve up the results in a way that makes sense.