Maggie Shiels

Can Google now see, hear and search in real time?

  • Maggie Shiels
  • 8 Dec 09, 11:11 GMT

"Take that, Bing!" That seemed to be the message underlying Google's announcement of its new search features at the Computer History Museum in California.

Packing the biggest punch was real-time search - as shown off in the company's short promotional video.

Google told us that the feature is live, but may take a few days to roll out across the world - in the meantime, Google Trends gives a sense of the look and feel.

Google real-time search

When the company's big guns - search VP Marissa Mayer, engineering VP Vic Gundotra (ex-Microsoft, by the way) and Google fellow Amit Singhal - came on stage, it was clear that their aim was to put the competition on notice, the competition in this case being Microsoft and its search engine Bing.

Lately, Bing has been grabbing the lion's share of headlines: finalising its search deal with Yahoo; introducing 3D maps; another deal with microblogging service Twitter and, less happily, that half-hour outage last week.

While Google remains the search giant with a 65+% share, Bing's deal with Yahoo ups the ante as the joint partnership prepares to lay claim to nearly 30%.

And so Google has fought back and claimed to be the first search engine to include real-time search in its results pages. There are of course other - smaller - services offering real-time search including Collecta, One Riot and Crowdeye.

Mr Singhal told me that he thought real-time search was as much of a breakthrough as Google's 2007 upgrade to universal search, when the company began providing results from books, maps, videos, news and books as well as from web pages.

Addressing the crowd of reporters and bloggers, Mr Singhal used the same kind of hyperbole as we heard back then:

"At Google, we are never satisfied. It takes a tenth of a second for light to go around the world. At Google we will not be satisfied until that is the only barrier between you and your information."

So there was the headline announcement for Google. There were other interesting features. For example, Mr Gundotra had fun showing off "visual search" - where search queries are made of pictures instead of words.

Snapping a picture of a wine bottle with his phone, he said that this kind of computer vision was one of the toughest challenges, as all sorts of information popped up in the search results box.

I'm not sure how much wine was drunk in the process of coming up with a name for this feature, but you certainly have to be sober to say Google Goggles a few times in a row.

Mr Gundotra - who, I should add, was clearly not intoxicated in any shape or form - literally spoke in tongues when demonstrating another feature, "voice search".

Screenshot of Japanese-search-by-voice demoHe did well getting results in Chinese for McDonalds in Beijing, but stepped aside when it came to demonstrating Japanese, the new language that is now part of the product.

There was also the launch of "what's nearby" for Google Maps on Android phones, which will give users a list of 10 of the closest places to them, including shops and restaurants.

All these developments, concluded Mr Gundotra, add up to "the beginning of the beginning":

"When you take a sensor-rich device and you connect it to the cloud - yes, it could be that we are at the cusp of an entire new computer era."

Google CEO Eric Schmidt clearly agrees. Anticipating all these announcements, he opened @ericschmidt, his Twitter account. Yes, this is the same Mr Schmidt who, earlier in the year, said "speaking as a computer scientist, I view all these as sort of a poor man's e-mail systems."

All that, of course, was way before Google formed a partnership with the popular micro-blogging service.

It's interesting to note that the photograph for Mr Schmidt's Twitter account shows him wearing a flak jacket.


  • Comment number 1.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 2.

    Social Networking (I.E Facebook and MySpace) is a bad example of Googles new real-time search feature. Is there anything that would really be unique in fan based Facebook pages that aren't in multiple other places?

    I agree with #1, this just increases the amount of dross I need to cut through when searching. I can't believe Google are paying Facebook for the privilege of highlighting Facebooks poor quality and mostly syndicated content. I know Bing is trying to strike deals with everyone and anyone for access to content but I just don't see why Google is diving in here.

  • Comment number 3.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 4.

    Google Goggles heralds a new way of using technology in the real world, but it is just the beginning of the beginning. The rest of the changes border on useless to most people using the search engine.
    Perhaps, having killed AltaVista by having a name which is easier to type, Google should instead be researching a name both shorter and easier to type than Bing?

  • Comment number 5.

    Does this mean that FB, MS, twitter will need to introduce a new custom setting to stop search engines indexing updates. After all this is possible for any site using a robots.txt file and it should be allowed under right to privacy rules. There is some debate about using these sites if you have a right to privacy...but I do have a right to not allow google to index me.

  • Comment number 6.

    This is a bold, timely move that is going to lead to a massive shake up in the entire search industry. . It is clear that most folks who have commented so far appreciate the importance of this development like I do. Besides TipTop ( which offers a unique experience that Google would not be able to replicate easily (unless they acquire them), I do not quite see how any other real-time search engine is going to survive after this.

  • Comment number 7.

    #5 Charlie - You do have a right to not allow google to index you. But commercial deals will be done and it could end up be a condition of using mytwitface etc that user allow comments and status updates to be indexed. We have no inalienable human right to be able to use blogs and social networks - so our choice may well be; be indexed or go somewhere else!

  • Comment number 8.

    Google needs to add a filtering option to remove the Twits from the search results.

  • Comment number 9.

    @Tengsted "Google needs to add a filtering option to remove the Twits from the search results."... Brilliant :)

    Google has rolled out a lot of new stuff recently. Although this is just a 'realtime' addon to search, the world's largest advertising agency is starting to feel like Microsoft did 10 years ago - everywhere, inescapable, domineering. I'm not a conspiracy theorist by nature, but the implications of its information knowledge are starting to become inescapable.

  • Comment number 10.

    #4 ian hawkins

    how about loki :)

  • Comment number 11.

    Google took massive step to add new feature but it to do goes beyond then competitors. which is going faster

  • Comment number 12.

    Now Google have sections (not too clearly divided) for News, Recent (live-feed), and Image results plus the page-rank results all on the front page it adds yet more complexity and clutter.

    The British Computer Society has done a survey that shows only 10% of IT users are competent; I do wonder how many are struggling with the increasing complexity of the Web?

    Updates (live-feed) is in the Show Options panel on the LH side of the Google front page, I’d prefer it if I could choose to show it rather than having it show as the default. I’d rather live-feed was an option I could turn on and off as suits me.

    I can see the attraction for FB, MS and Twitter. They hope to attract new users to register.

    More disturbingly we’re now seeing the few large companies that dominate the Web joining forces to form cartels to further consolidate their dominance of the Web.

  • Comment number 13.

    The Google's Googles link to the the official google blog goes to a page that doesn't seem to exist any more.

  • Comment number 14.

    Of course the biggest news about Google from a UK consumer's perspective has been largely missed by all mainstream news media this week: (see comments as well as the main article).

    To summarise:

    Operation Papworth was presented by all the news media as the Met Police removing 1200 scam websites operating with "" domains.

    Which is true on a basic factual basis.

    However, why did these websites cause such a problem? There are millions of scam websites, why did this bunch of scam websites warrant a major Police operation (instigated at the behest of Trading Standards?)

    The answer is that most of them ended up at the very top of the Google search results for major ecommerce search terms (i.e. things you and I might shop for - check out any of the news reports for a list of the some of the products affected).

    Of course, where it gets interesting is how they ended up at the top of Google's search results?

    It turns out that the criminal gangs behind these sites used incredibly simple but totally discredited search engine optimisation (SEO) techniques that Google has claimed to be able to spot and take action against.

    SEO for those who don't know is the name given to a wide range of techiques for trying to get your website to rank better in a search engine - some are legitimate (like writing really good content that people link to from their own sites) and these are sometimes referred to as "whitehat".

    Other techniques are not legitimate (like hiding links on other websites using the same background colour and font colour - so the link can only been seen by the search engine and not users) and these are called "blackhat".

    Using blackhat techniques to get a site to rank artifically highly for a search term is against Google's rules (their webmaster guidelines) and will result (according to numerous statements by Google employees) in such sites being either penalised (i.e. demoted in the rankings) or even banned (i.e. removed from the rankings altogether).

    However, these 1200 scam sites (which incidentally are just the tip of the iceberg) used blackhat techniques to get to the top of search results (often ahead of ALL legitimate UK retailers, even the likes of Amazon, etc).

    This proves that for some reason, Google is not able to prevent even the most blatant of webspam (because the blackhat techniques used were old and very, very blatant).

    The story lies in finding out what the "some reason" is? Being able to judge what is a "trusted" site and what is a low value spam site is meant to be the absolute core of Google's organisational skillset.

    This is like finding out that Apple actually make ugly computers with terrible User Interfaces. Google is meant to embody accurate search resuls.

    However, probably because it requires a bit of an understanding of SEO (and because Google have kept totally quiet on the issue), the story has only been reported by the mainstream in terms of what the police in the UK did do, not what Google failed to do.

    And, continue to fail to do, as one week after the Police action many of these sites continue to appear in Google on page 1 for very high traffic terms despite no longer existing (returning a 404 error).

    This means that Google cannot, it appears, even weed out sites that no longer exist. It also seems to suggest that despite this story appearing in every single UK newspaper and media website, Google seem to have continued to ignore the problem.

    Trading Standards will tell you that UK customers have lost millions of pounds (some people estimate tens of millions of pounds) to these scam sites this year alone, and although Google obviously cannot be blamed for the actions of criminals in setting up and operating these sites, they can be blamed for not picking up on blatant blackhat search engine manipulation techniques that are against their own webmaster guidelines despite expressly claiming that they can.

    The public trust Google to show them relevant search results, and Google have completely failed to do this.

    Thanks to the UK Police, 1200 of these problem sites have been shut down, but thousands more still exist (Papworth only targeted "" domains) and the problem of their ability to dominate Google rankings is growing every single day.

  • Comment number 15.

    If you ask me Google seems to be heading more towards the "social" side of things, first the personalised search and now real time updates.

    All of these things mean that everyone will soon be getting totally different results, I've made a blog post about Google Personalised Search over at Infoserve Marketing I would appreciate your comments.

  • Comment number 16.

    Google knows how to make user experience better and better. I remember in feb 2009 Pranav Mistry(Indian Scientist) under TED, is developed a sixth sense device which is quite similar to the search technology you said about product review.

  • Comment number 17.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


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