May 19, 2012, 7:30 AM — Google today unwrapped the first of its long-promised semantic search capabilities, dubbed Knowledge Graph.
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The new Knowledge Graph feature will give users more direct answers to questions and the option to search for different connotations of terms with more than one meaning. Or as Google product management director Johanna Wright puts it, "We're in the early phases of moving from being an information engine to becoming a knowledge engine and these enhancements are one step in that direction."
Here are three key features:
The information side panel.
By now we're all familiar with the Google search format: You type in a set of keywords and Google retrieves a simple list that Google's search algorithms have determined are the most relevant to the query.
But with Knowledge Graph, when you conduct a search for a well-known person, place or thing, a panel will pop up to the right of the standard search results that will provide additional data on what you're looking for. For instance, a search for "Marie Curie" will deliver a panel that includes the dates of her birth and death, a list of her spouse and children, and her major accomplishments. It also shows you a list of related searches that have been performed by other users that have recently searched for Marie Curie, such as "Pierre Curie," "Albert Einstein" and "Louis Pasteur."
Accounting for context.
Relatively simple words can have wildly different meanings, of course, depending on context. Knowledge Graph will address this by adding a little sidebar on searches that will provide different connotations on words that you search for.
As an example, Google uses the term "Taj Mahal," which can refer to a world-famous landmark in India, a popular singer, or a Casino in Atlantic City. So when you type in "Taj Mahal" into Google once it's equipped with Knowledge Graph, you'll get a sidebar giving you the option to search specifically for the different options. In a lot of ways this is fairly similar to how Wikipedia handles terms with more than one meaning, as it provides you with a link at the top of the page giving you the option seeing all the different Wiki pages with titles that contain your search query.
As you might have guessed, adding a sidebar to mobile searches won't work quite as well on smartphones where there is significantly less screen room to play with. So instead Google has placed a shortened version of the Knowledge Graph just above the main search results so that you have the option to expand on it just by tapping or swiping it. Once expanded, the mobile Knowledge Graph looks much like it does on desktop searches and it provides you with all the basic vital information you'd expect from a standard Knowledge Graph sidebar.
Bottom line: Google has long said that it wants its searches to be more personable to users who want more than a standard wall of links. The Knowledge Graph so far looks like an impressive first step and it will be very interesting to see what else Google has up its sleeves in the coming months.
Brad Reed covers both Google and the wireless industry for Network World. Be sure to check out his blog, Google Reed-er, and follow him on Twitter at @bwreednww.
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