Google unveiled what it called its "Knowledge Graph" on Wednesday, combining a Bing-like "snapshot" panel with results that appear closer to Wolfram Alpha's own knowledge engine.
Google said that, now, when a user searches for an "object" in its database - such as the "Taj Mahal," "Mona Lisa," or "Leonardo da Vinci," Google's search results will try to identify the proper context for the search, identify key facts about it, and then lead onto related topics for further discovery.
"We've always believed that the perfect search engine should understand exactly what you mean and give you back exactly what you want, Amit Singhal, the senior vice president of engineering for Google, wrote in a blog post. "And we can now sometimes help answer your next question before you've asked it, because the facts we show are informed by what other people have searched for.
Google said that first, it would try and identify the proper form of the object from among the 500 million objects stored within its database: distinguishing the "Taj Mahal" monument from the band, for example. In some sense, Google already does this, trying to determine if users are more interested in the "Apple" that makes iPhones, rather than the fruit.
From there, selecting or highlighting one of these objects will create a callout panel, highlighting some of the most salient facts about the object - more than 3.5 billion facts relationships between the different objects, Google said. A search for "Vincent van Gogh," for example, will open a panel with facts about his birth, death, parents, siblings, and artistic periods, with images of some of his most famous works and contemporaries highlighted below, based on related searches. Google said that it brings up this information based upon the most common searches users perform for a particular object.
For example, the information Google shows for "Tom Cruise" answers 37 percent of next queries that people ask about him, Singhal added.
Singhal said the new Knowledge Graph a step toward what it called the next generation of search, which taps into the "collective intelligence of the Web," Singhal said.
That, of course, is what Microsoft attempted with its Bing redesign last week, which added a "snapshot" panel with additional facts about an object. (Microsoft representatives said that feature is still rolling out, even on the Bing redesign, though the changes are accessible via bing.com/new.) A "sidebar" also feeds in results from the collective intelligence of a user's friends, connected via Facebook and others.
Google's new panel also appears similar to Wolfram Alpha, which claims to be a "computational knowledge engine."
For its part, that's the direction Google claims to be heading: "We're in the early phases of moving from being an information engine to being a knowledge engine, and these enhancements are one step in that direction," said Johanna Wright, the product management director at Google, in a video (below) describing the new changes.
A search for "Marie Curie" on Google's Knowledge Engine will show when and where Curie was born and died, as well as her spouse, children, and famous discoveries. On Wolfram Alpha, the same search shows her name, date and place of birth and her death, then drops down to talk about her discoveries. Incidentally, Google identifies her place of death only as "Sancellemoz," the name of a sanatorium in Passy, Rhone-Alpes, France; Wolfram uses the location instead.
Representatives from Google and Microsoft were not immediately available for comment.
The new look for Google's search results will roll out over the next few weeks to U.S. English users, Google said. Google also said that the Knowledge Graph will roll out to Android 2.2+ phones and tablets, as well as Apple iPhones running iOS 4 and above, using either swipable results to the left and right or an interactive ribbon to provide the additional context.