Google not sure about giving users a voice in search

Google not sure about giving users a voice in search

Google is still mulling whether to give search users features to influence directly how results are ranked and evaluated.

Wikia Search lets anyone add, delete and rate search results, as well as edit the content of a search result URL by modifying its headline and description. Changes appear immediately without going through an approval process. Following the wiki philosophy, Wales believes that the Wikia Search community will police itself and that a collective wisdom will prevail.

Google does offer some customization and personalization options to users with a Google account. For example, account holders can maintain a log of their search and browsing activity via a service called Web History, as well as bookmark and annotate site links with a service called Notebook.

While Google ponders implementing the test's feedback features to all its users, it is taking definitive steps to extend its search technology beyond analysis of text by understanding multimedia characteristics in photos, videos and audio, Cutts said.

For example, Google's Image search engine can now be told to filter results and return only photos of people because it can recognize whether a face dominates the image, Cutts said. In video search, Google has started creating transcriptions of speech, so that people can search for what is said on a clip. "We're not just relying on metadata," Cutts said.

"We have people at Google who are voice-recognition experts and image-recognition experts and video-recognition experts, so it's really quite exciting to think about the future of search in terms of understanding more about voice and video and images," he added.

Cutts, who is very well-known in search circles and whose blog is required reading for search specialists everywhere, also challenges the charge that Google doesn't employ semantic search technology, which seeks to understand the meaning of Web pages as opposed to analyzing links and keywords.

"Many people have a misconception that Google only searches for exactly the words that you type," he said. "We try to be a little more helpful. We search for different [word] stems, so for 'run' we might search 'running' and even for synonyms, so if a page has the word 'jogging' that can help us quite a bit even though your query was 'running' or 'run.' So we actually do quite a bit of semantic searching to try to help the user out."

Asked whether Google is worried about being locked out of popular social-networking sites like Facebook that limit search-engine crawling, Cutts said that Google is happy that the overall trend over the past 10 years has been toward openness.

"The high order bit for us is we don't want to index content if the site owner doesn't want us to," he said. "That said, over time, the vast majority of sites have realized that it can be very helpful to have pages within the search results. Although there are some walled gardens, a lot of these places open up over time if they see the benefit and rewards in showing up well in different search engines."

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