Google Goes After Social-Network Search With Facebook, MySpace

Latest Moves Focus on Real-Time Web, Mobile and Local

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NEW YORK ( -- Google lifted the curtain today on a host of new features that incorporate time and place into its search results, including the coming integration of Facebook and MySpace status updates into search results.

Google real time searchEnlarge
A Google spokesperson said there were no immediate plans to place advertising next to real-time search results while it refines the user experience.

The search giant also demonstrated its latest innovations in mobile search, including an augmented-reality application for it Android mobile-operating-system platform that can identify objects such as a book, product or piece of artwork and deliver relevant information about them.

Social network search
The new features, introduced at the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley, come more than a month after it announced the integration of Twitter update, announced on the same day that Microsoft's Bing would integrate updates from the microblogging service.

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As with Twitter, Google declined to say if it's paying MySpace and Facebook for its data, but clearly the goal is to cement its position as preferred search engine for social-network users, and to give anyone searching better visibility in what is being said at a given moment.

As with its Twitter deal, a Google spokesperson said there were no immediate plans to place advertising next to real-time search results while it refines the user experience.

'Beginning of the beginning'
But Google did say that as far as it has come in developing search as a tool and an ad marketplace, there is much more on the way. "We're at the beginning of the beginning," said Vic Gundotra, Google's VP of engineering.

That search is still in its infancy either is scary notion for Google because it has a very well-funded competitor from Microsoft, which is about to absorb Yahoo's search business, or promising because of what's possible, particularly in local advertising, thanks to myriad new applications.

"The location relevance of mobile searches is clearly top of mind for Google," wrote Kelsey Group's Mike Borland in a blog. "They've told us, in fact, that local searches index two to three times higher (as a percentage of overall searches) on mobile than PC. With this comes even greater relevance for local information."

Rolling real-time updates
Google's mobile search results will now include a section containing a rolling list of real-time updates from sources including newly published blogs and pages, feeds from Twitter and public Facebook and MySpace updates. Google will also show the real-time trending topics being discussed.

Some have wondered how Google will be able to keep up the quality of search results and present useful, relevant information to consumers in the cacophony of real-time babble.

"The big challenge isn't pulling in the information from across the web quickly -- it's sorting through it and putting the good stuff at the top," said Harry McCracken, editor of the Technologist. "In a way, this is similar to the challenge that Google tackled when it was founded. There were other search engines, such as AltaVista, but nobody had figured out how to determine which sites should be at the top of results. Google nailed relevance back then, so they have as good a short as anyone at addressing it with real-time search."

'Google googles'
In addition to real-time search, Google showed off its first augmented-reality app for Android it calls "Google Goggles," which allows you to point your mobile phone's camera at an object and submit that image as a search query. You can snap pictures of anything from wine labels to pet tarantulas. Google's vision algorithms then analyze the photos, which are matched up against an index containing a billion images, before it sends the best match to your device.

Google also showed a few new features that make search more sensitive to geography. Mr. Gundotra gave the example of a user who starts to type the letters "RE" as a query. For someone living in San Francisco, Google will predict "REI," the outdoors sports retailer popular with Bay Area residents. For Boston searchers, Google will predict "Red Sox." Mr. Gundotra noted 40% of mobile searches originate from Google-suggested queries -- that is, users accept a search term that Google suggests based on predictive text algorithms.

Both Android phones and desktop searchers will get the new "Near Me Now" feature, which allows users to pinpoint areas of interest to them on Google Maps, including local merchants.

"My sense is mobile search will end up being a bunch of things -- there's voice input, you'll use a map, you'll use a camera," said independent mobile search analyst Greg Sterling. "The context and modality with which you have in mobile is much more varied than on a desktop. None of this is a translation of the desktop experience."

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