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From its meager beginnings as a student search engine project called BackRub at Stanford University, to the powerhouse search engine that is both a noun and a verb in one, Google’s path has been one of growth and constant adaptation with the times.
Examining the path of that history provides some interesting insights into what the world’s most popular search engine will probably look like in 10 years.
Why 10 years? Because 10 years encompasses nearly the entire lifetime of Google, from the moment of its first major algorithm update in 2003 called “Boston”. In 10 years, the search engine will probably look nothing like it does today, but it will serve a multitude of needs in everyday life well beyond those that exist on the family computer.
The History of Google Search
In 1995, when Larry Page and Sergey Brin first met and started collaborating on the search engine that would eventually become Google — then called BackRub — it’s doubtful they could have ever imagined the size and power of the company that would result from those efforts.
By 1999, the small company outgrew its garage-beginnings, and established its first real office in Palo Alto with eight employees. 2002 is when things got really interesting, with the Google Search Appliance, a major overhaul of AdWords, Google Labs, Google News and the first set of Google APIs for developers.
It isn’t surprising that the following year brought Google’s first algorithm update meant to thwart SEO folks who were — up to this point — quite successful at landing pages at the top of Google results through keyword stuffing and building huge backlink farming campaigns.
“Boston” curbed the backlink game a little bit, and so started the constant tug of war between those developing the Google algorithm for better results, and efforts of webmasters to land their websites and web pages as high in Google search results as possible.
The evolution of that algorithm — aside from attempting to thwart SEO gaming efforts — actually reveals a great deal about the future vision of Google Search planners, and where they have been steering the company up until this point. Here’s the breakdown of those major updates that offered that insight.
- Brandy (2004) – Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI), which is using a mathematical technique to identify relationships within concepts inside of a collection of text.
- Personalized Search (2005) – This update used the user’s search history to affect search results.
- Google Local (2005) – Local business data gets integrated into Google maps.
- Universal Search (2007) – News, video and local results are integrated with regular search results.
- Real-Time Search (2009) – Social content like Twitter get integrated into a real-time feed.
- Caffeine (2010) – Improves indexing of sites, improving the freshness of search results.
- User Search (2012) – Google+ and authorship integrated into search results.
- Venice (2012) – Better local results for broad queries.
- Knowledge Graph (2012) – Information and image relevant to your search term show up next to regular results.
These were all of the updates that were not meant to thwart black-hat SEO efforts, but were instead intended to evolve the algorithm to produce a new generation of information in a brand new way, whether that involved integrating information about the user doing the searching, or trying to use something like the Knowledge Graph to predict what the user really intends to look for.
Predictive Search Results
The science of the search algorithm has applications well outside of the Internet search page itself. When you combine the multitude of mobile devices and the Internet of Things movement, the use of the search algorithm to feed everything with the right data becomes even more critical. Google may be best placed to do it, especially considering it has already established one of the most popular mobile platforms on the planet — Android.
Past efforts to incorporate user information and behavior into search results points to a future where artificial intelligence would be used to better predict what the user wants to know even before they ask it. Google Now is a good example of an early generation of this, and Google Glass is a clear example of an alternative delivery system for those search results. There is a growing movement toward augmented reality, and Google appears poised to take advantage of it.
In an interview with the BBC, Amit Singhal, Google’s head of search, explained it this way:
“To a computer, understanding means when you ask it something, it can tell you a lot more about that thing. For example it will be able to tell you for Taj Mahal that it’s a monument, where it is, what you should know about it if you are interested in it, and not just a bunch of links.”
In other words, in the near future, by knowing where you are located, your past web searches, purchases and travels, Google will be able to evaluate what you probably want to know and provide you with the information even before you open your mouth to ask. That day might be displayed on the HUD display of a pair of sunglasses, a wristwatch, or maybe even special electronic contact lenses.
Past efforts on the part of Google to constantly improve local search results imply that the future vision of the search team is to give you highly personalized data based on your location and your current activity.
This kind of update, with local business results, began as early as 2005, and continued to evolve in the search algorithm up through today. In 10 years, this personalization of delivered information will become even more relevant in our daily life. The concept of “autocomplete” as you type in search results takes on a whole new meaning when Google could potentially “autocomplete” your intended search for data without the need to even type in a single letter. This vision was explained by Amit Singhal in the same BBC interview:
“Now you can imagine there are some contextual cues where you don’t even have type the first letter to fill out what most people in similar contexts do.”
In other words, if most people like you in a similar situation almost always search for a particular piece of data, then Google can predict that you’ll probably search for the same. Imagine riding down the Interstate wearing a pair of Google Glasses, and as you and your family start getting hungry, Google automatically displays the location of the top 4 take-out restaurants in the area. Such predictions are possible when Google is collecting statistical data on millions of queries from millions of locations across the globe.
“So for example, if someone is standing in front of Buckingham Palace and most people who stand there query “Trafalgar Square”, then potentially that would be a suggestion that could happen without even going to the box.”
Of course, while it’s a tremendous convenience to receive exactly the data that you need exactly when you need it, it’s also a little disconcerting to know that Google could potentially have so much information about the behaviors of people in the near future — far more than it already has today. In the wrong hands, that kind of information could be dangerous…but that may be the price required for such progress.
Google Search in the Future
That’s not all the future holds for Google Search. Result data can be used in a multitude of ways, in the many new devices entering into the market.
- Speech devices that utilize Google Translate to allow you to communicate with anyone regardless of language.
- Wearable devices that monitor your health and use search results to advise you of proper dietary and exercise choices for your situation.
- Mobile GPS devices for your driver-less car that use traffic search results to divert your car onto the fastest route toward your destination.
The bottom line is that search results will no longer remain isolated to a text field on your computer or mobile screen. In the next 10 years, data from the Internet will feed the many devices and services that help you throughout your daily life.
Are you looking forward to what the future of search will bring, or are you hoping for a new company to take over and do something entirely different? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!