November 10, 2009, 5:10 PM — Last month, Google CEO Eric Schmidt said during the company's earnings call that Google had implemented about 120 search quality improvements during the third quarter as it moves toward its ultimate goal: "We want to get to the perfect search engine."
No one asked him to elaborate on that lofty goal, so when IDG News Service recently had a chance to interview Marissa Mayer, Google's vice president of Search Products & User Experience, we promptly asked her to explain what Schmidt meant. She also talked about what keeps Google ahead on search, how the company views semantic technology and what's next in its Universal Search efforts to combine links to a variety of file types -- news articles, images, videos, books, maps -- in a single results list.
An edited transcript of the conversation follows:
IDG News Service: What is the perfect search engine? If you had a magic wand and could create it, what would it look like? What would it do?
Marissa Mayer: It would be a machine that could answer that question, really. It would be one that could understand speech, questions, phrases, what entities you're talking about, concepts. It would be able to search all of the world's information, [find] different ideas and concepts, and bring them back to you in a presentation that was really informative and coherent.
There are a lot of different aspects of research that need to go into building that search engine. You need to understand speech. You need to understand images. You need translation, so you can find the answer regardless of what language it's written in. You need a lot of artificial intelligence to be able to analyze what information is relevant and synthesize it. You need a great user interface and user experience to put it in context. And you probably need a certain amount of personalization, so the search engine relates to the person, to their background, what they already know about, what they looked for last week.
IDGNS: At the user interface level, Google gets criticized by its competitors constantly for what they pejoratively disdain as Google's "10 blue links" results page. They say Google is old school, that its paradigm of search is inefficient and inconvenient. How do you respond to that kind of criticism?
Mayer: I'd point to the fact that Universal Search was really a watershed moment in this. You get diagrams, pictures, blogs, local information, books, news, all stitched into your search engine. While many of our competitors are still busy building small, vertical search engines where you have to remember they have them, we're busy doing a very difficult computer science problem: How do you stitch all of these disparate mediums together into one coherent set of answers, and how do you synthesize all of that? We're doing all of that because it's better for users: Here's the tool and it gives me what I want, regardless of what format it came in.