Google pumps up the power of search

13 May 2009

At its second Searchology event in two years, Google last night introduced new search tools that allow users to more narrowly refine Google searches, as well as an online fact-finder tool.

The company revealed a tool called Search Options that allows users to slice and dice their results and generate different views to find what they need faster and easier.

“Search Options helps solve a problem that can be vexing: what query should I ask?,” explained Marissa Mayer, vice-president of Search Products at Google, writing in the company’s official blog.

“Let’s say you are looking for forum discussions about a specific product, but are most interested in ones that have taken place more recently. That’s not an easy query to formulate, but with Search Options you can search for the product’s name, apply the option to filter out anything but forum sites, and then apply an option to only see results from the past week.

The Search Options panel also gives users the ability to view their results in new ways. One view gives more information about each result, including images as well as text, while others let you explore and iterate your search in different ways.

“We think of the Search Options panel as a tool belt that gives you new ways to interact with Google Search, and we plan to fill it with more innovative and useful features in the future. Another challenging problem we have worked on is better understanding the information you get back from a search,” Mayer said.

“When you see your results from a Google search, how do you decide which one has the best information for you? Or, how can we help you make the best decision about where to click?”

Google calls the set of information returned with each result a ‘snippet’, and revealed that some of these snippets are going to get richer.

“These ‘rich snippets’ extract and show more useful information from web pages than the preview text that you are used to seeing. For example, if you are thinking of trying out a new restaurant and are searching for reviews, rich snippets could include things like the average review score, the number of reviews and the restaurant’s price range,” said Mayer.

“We can’t provide these snippets on our own, so we hope that web publishers will help us by adopting microformats or RDFa standards to mark up their HTML and bring this structured data to the surface. This will help people better understand the information you have on your page, so they can spend more time there and less on Google,” she explained.

Google will be rolling this feature out gradually and has encouraged interested webmasters to visit the rich snippets help page to learn more.

Google also previewed a new tool called Google Squared. Unlike a normal search engine, Google Squared doesn’t find web pages about your topic – instead, it automatically fetches and organises facts from across the internet.

Google Squared will be opened up to users later this month on Google Labs.

By John Kennedy

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