In recent months, Google has been following a strategy it calls putting more wood behind fewer arrows. It involves prioritizing the company’s projects, and you don’t have to be paying very close attention to know that its Google+ social network is at the very tippy-top of the list. In January, the company’s crown jewel and cash cow — the Google search engine — got a major makeover which started to blur the lines between it and and Google+.
Social clues may yet make search results radically more relevant, but for now, they still feel like a experiment — and, of course, a reaction to the rise of Facebook — rather than a breakthrough. Maybe even a distraction. Which is why I’m excited about a new technology and concept which Google is announcing today. The company calls it the Knowledge Graph, and it has the potential to make search much more useful, right this moment.
Google says it’s been working on populating the Knowledge Graph for the past two years: Its database now includes half a billion people, places and things, and 3.5 billion attributes and connections that define them. It’s exposing this deeper understanding of the world in some new features that are beginning to roll out today — you may not see them immediately — and has wildly ambitious plans to build on them in the future.
What sort of things does the Knowledge Graph know about? Google’s examples include lighthouses, movie directors, countries, baseball teams, spacecraft and roller coasters, among many others. It understands what real-world things fall into these groups and some of the basic facts that tie them together as a category. It also knows about related subjects.
In one of Google’s example searches, the Knowledge Graph lets the search engine understand a lot more about “Frank Lloyd Wright” than the mere fact that it’s a string of eighteen characters that shows up on a lot of web pages. It understands that Wright was an architect who was born on June 8, 1867 in Richland Center, WI and who died on April 9, 1959 in Phoenix. It knows that his projects included Fallingwater, the Robie House and Taliesin West. And it knows that he was in the same profession as Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius and Frank Gehry.
The Knowledge Graph puts all this information, and more, in a box that sits to the right-hand side of the main search results. It lets you learn a bit about Wright at a glance — and, more important, use your initial search as a starting point to search for other topics that relate to him.
In the Wright example, the Knowledge Graph box serves as a straightforward mini-profile of the architect. But Google also thinks that there are instances where it’ll enable a more serendipitous form of learning. In the box for Simpsons creator Matt Groening, for instance, it shows the names of the cartoonist’s father, mother and sister — which are, respectively, Homer, Marge and Lisa.
In another form of Knowledge Graph box, shown if you search for something that’s vague and subject to multiple interpretations, Google will present several topics, any one of which could be what you were searching for. If you search for “andromeda,” for instance, you’ll get this:
The Knowledge Graph isn’t just a box — it’s an approach to search which has infinite potential. Google says that it wants to be able to answer questions such as these:
- Where can I attend a Lady Gaga concert in warm outdoor weather?
- Where can I find an amusement park with an outdoor vegetarian restaurant nearby?
- How many governors were born in a different state than they govern?
It can’t deal with these queries now; neither can any other search engine. But the Knowledge Graph feels like a meaningful step in the right direction.
Here’s Google’s video explanation of the new technology and features:
Search Engine Land’s Danny Sullivan, as usual with Google news, has a remarkably comprehensive and thoughtful analysis of what all this means.