Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Google provides advanced search tools

Google Inc. unveiled new tools Tuesday for Internet users to narrow and organize their search results as the company tries to maintain its dominance against a sea of challengers.

The products are largely intended for more complex research and for sophisticated searchers who fail to find what they're looking for in their initial queries.

Google Squared, an experimental service, automatically compiles details from several Web pages and organizes them into a table on a single page, with multiple columns like a spread sheet. A search for "small dogs," for instance, returns a list of breeds, an accompanying image and a brief description, plus the average height and weight of each breed.

Squared, to be available in Google Labs this month, marks a radical departure for the company, which has gained a huge following by retrieving a list of links to other Web sites. In this case, Google is creating pages of its own from information culled from several sources and then displaying it in a grid.

"It really pushes search in an entirely different direction," said Marissa Mayer, vice president of search and user experience at Google.

But how much information Google lifts from other Web sites is a sensitive topic. The more Google uses, the less users may feel compelled to visit the original sources, potentially upsetting some of those site owners, even if there is a link to the original source, said Danny Sullivan, editor of Search Engine Land, an online newsletter about the search industry.

Users who don't get the information they want from Squared can add criteria, which will appear in additional columns. Searches can be saved and accessed later for users who have Google accounts.

As part of its preview of Squared, Google showed that the product is imperfect. A table listing vegetables included an image of people playing squash, the racket sport.

Google's foray with Squared comes as startup Wolfram Alpha plans to introduce a search engine that collects facts and charts from around the Web about particular topics. Wolfram's technology has generated intense buzz about whether it poses a threat to Google.

Google remains the most dominant search engine, with a U.S. market share of 63.7 percent, according to ComScore Inc., followed by Yahoo at 20.5 percent and Microsoft at 8.3 percent. A number of upstarts have tried to unseat Google over the years by promising better search results, only to vanish into obscurity.

In addition to Squared, Google introduced a way for users to filter results by different criteria if they're not satisfied with what Google's more generic algorithm returns.

After making an initial search, a "show options" button appears under the Google logo on the upper left side of the search results page. From there, users can refine their query by how recently the material was posted or by the type of content such as video or a review.

A search for British Prime Minister Gordon Brown can be adjusted to return more newsy items, for instance, by clicking on the option for the most recent results. A time line option gives a visual representation of when his name was mentioned through the years, with the amount rising along with his political power.

Mayer said that the enhancements address some problems users had in crafting queries to get newer information and for more complex topics. Some of the options had been available by using Google's advanced search or its news search.

Sullivan, the editor, said it's doubtful that many people will use the feature and pointed out that other search engines can add similar tools, if they don't have them already. (SFGATE)

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