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David Talbot

A View from David Talbot

Google Unveils Google Squared

A new effort to cull and table numerical data from Web pages was among several features announced today.

  • May 12, 2009

Today, Google showed off a forthcoming service called Google Squared that creates tables of numerical data culled from searches of websites. In the example given, a search for “small dogs” created a table on different breeds, including data on such things as the breeds’ heights and weights, placed inside boxes. Once an initial table is created, users can click on individual entries to check the source and–if the number is erroneous–correct the numbers through new searches. Finally, they can save their customized table for future reference.

“It is something that pushes search in an entirely new direction, and it is a hard, computer-science problem–to take this unstructured information and present it in a structured way,” says Marissa Mayer, Google’s vice president of search products and user experience. During such searches, Google is seeking “search results for all the different values that could populate a table like this,” she says, and since results will sometimes be wrong, it offers intuitive ways for users to verify the information included. The service is expected to launch by the end of this month, Mayer says.

Google Squared is different than Wolfram Alpha, a “computational knowledge engine” that–rather than search the Web for the data–taps databases curated or licensed by Wolfram Research of Champaign, IL (makers of Mathematica software). With Alpha, the emphasis is on computing and visualizing many kinds of data on things like astronomy, food science, and weather from its own sources. That service is expected to launch within a week.

The new Google feature is part of a suite of features that Google described today. Another is Google options: after doing a search, you will see a new icon saying “options.” In the case of Hubble Telescope, clicking this new word offers you a range of options on what sorts of results you want: “videos,” “forums,” “reviews,” results sorted by time frame (past 24 hours, past week, past year), or the most recently created pages or images.

Google also showed off a new search tool for Android, its mobile operating system. The tool allows users to find stars and constellations–exploiting your GPS-derived location and your mobile gadget’s accelerometer to give you a frame of reference for viewing celestial objects. For example, if you enter “gemini” as a search term, the display will show you a circle and an arrow directing you where to point the gadget. As you move your mobile device closer to the constellation, the circle turns from blue to red–indicating that you are getting closer–and when you arrive, the circle expands to show you a labeled version of the constellation, which at that point should be in front of the actual constellation in the sky.

The search giant also said that it is trying to provide better real-time data in search results. For example, if you search for “Earthquakes Mountain View,” Google will, as its top result, push out the latest U.S. Geological Service report of tremors in the western U.S. Similarly, if you search for “NY Yankees” and a game is ongoing, you will get the current score through the latest inning. If you want to know whether your flight is on time, you can enter your flight number and get the answer up top. The company is trying to do more with GPS-derived location: if you enter “sushi” on your mobile browser, it will give you a list of nearby sushi restaurants.

Finally, Google is making more of a push to correct misspelled searches–and to give you results for both your spelling and for a corrected spelling at the same time. A search for “SFLL playoffs” will thus give you two groupings on the same page. The first grouping will be results pertaining to NFL playoffs, on the assumption that this is what most people meant. But the second grouping will be for the San Francisco Little League playoffs. The decision to overrule the searchers’ actual intent was a controversial one, researchers said, but was judged useful in most cases.

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