Google shows Microsoft it knows how to innovate

So much for Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's theory that market leader Google can't innovate in search. Google just unwrapped two new innovative search features, one of which brings it well down the road toward semantic search, and guess what? Its customers are still happy and its lead in the search arena is still secure.

In the Official Google Blog, Google announced it's deployed a new semantic search-like technology "that can better understand associations and concepts related to your search," in order to provide better suggestions for related searches.

For example, a search for "principles of physics" would provide relevant results, but would also list such terms as "angular momentum," "special relativity," "big bang" and "quantum mechanics" in the related search area. Information Week says such suggestions are a bit more relevant than what other search engines provide:

While IAC's Ask, Microsoft's Live Search, and Yahoo Search offer related search suggestions for the search "principles of physics," their suggestions cover less conceptual ground and, arguably, are less useful. Live, for example, offers as related search suggestions "laws of physics," "principles of science," "fundamentals of physics," "definition of physics," and "principles of chemistry," among others.

In addition to the semantic search injection, Google also rolled out lengthier results snippets for multiple keyword searches. Snippets usually contain the keyword in bold, helping users determine the relevancy of the result. For complex searches with multiple keywords, traditional-length snippets can't provide enough context, Google says. So now, when users enter multiple keywords in their searches, Google will return results with longer, more detailed snippets--a move that should improve the chances of users finding what they need on the first try.

So there you have it, two key search tweaks that help bring Google a bit closer to one-search accuracy while ensuring it keeps its eye on where the future of search is heading, namely semantic search. Google is the opposite of innovation-averse. In fact, Information Week reports that Google made 450 search improvements in 2007 (last year's figures aren't available yet), for a total of nine per week. It knows it can't rest on its laurels, especially as--not just Microsoft and Yahoo--but a gaggle of newcomers seek to gain some traction and be crowned "the next Google."

Ballmer feels that Microsoft has more latitude for innovation because it's starting at practically zero. But what he doesn't understand is that Google remains a leader because it knows how to introduce iterative changes that over time lead it to true innovation--like semantic search. Unlike Microsoft, Google would never launch a new 3D-Aero version of search and then make its users find where it hid the new search box.

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