Get ready for the battle of the search engines

4 Jun 2009

Google has unveiled a plan to square up against upstart search engine Wolfram Alpha and will no doubt then turn its attention to win a ‘decisive’ battle against Microsoft’s new decision engine,

In its short history, Google has probably never felt itself so besieged – it’s usually the one that assails and reshapes existing markets. In one month, two new search products in the form of Wolfram Alpha and Microsoft’s are assailing its sacred search space.

Google has led the way in speedy, accurate search results and took upon itself the task of organising the world’s information.

But now, it seems, it has help. Wolfram Alpha, which was created by the team behind Mathematica, allows people to ask a question and get the answer they are looking for in a single hit – an answer engine!

And this week Microsoft took the wraps off its new search engine, which it has said will make searching far more efficient and will help people arrive at better decisions. It’s not a search engine, Microsoft says, it’s a decision engine.

But Google is not going to give up its crown easily and seems intent on tackling the new competition one player at a time.

It has begun with Wolfram Alpha in its sights and has launched a new product called Google Squared, an experimental search tool that collects facts from the web and presents them in an organised collection, similar to a spreadsheet.

“If you search for rollercoasters, for example, Google Squared builds a square with rows for each of several specific rollercoasters and columns for corresponding facts, such as image, height and maximum speed,” said Alex Komoroske, associate product manager for Google Squared, writing on his company’s blog.

“While gathering facts from across the internet is relatively easy (albeit tedious) for humans to do, it’s far more difficult for computers to do automatically. Google Squared is a first step towards solving that challenge. It essentially searches the web to find the types of facts you might be interested in, extracts them and presents them in a meaningful way.

”This technology is by no means perfect. That’s why we designed Google Squared to be conversational, enabling you to respond to the initial result and get a better answer. If there’s another row or column you’d like to see, you can add it and Google Squared will automatically attempt to fetch and fill in the relevant facts for you.

“As you remove rows and columns you don’t like, Google Squared will get a fresh idea of what you’re interested in and suggest new rows and columns to add,” Komoroske explained.

By John Kennedy

Pictured: A search for rollercoasters on Google Squared

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years