Google Search em­braces the feed

The Hamilton Spectator - - BUSINESS - MARK BERGEN

Years ago, Google built a so­cial net­work sep­a­rate from its prized as­set, web search. The ef­fort failed.

Now the com­pany is try­ing again — only this time, it’s turn­ing its search en­gine into some­thing that looks a lot like the news feed of a so­cial net­work.

The Al­pha­bet Inc. unit is in­tro­duc­ing a tai­lored feed of news, en­ter­tain­ment and myr­iad web con­tent based on users’ searches, YouTube video views and other per­sonal in­for­ma­tion. It’s an ex­pan­sion of an older mo­bile ser­vice called Google Now.

Yet some new bells and whis­tles — in­for­ma­tion from lo­cal trends and an abil­ity to “fol­low” pub­lic fig­ures, for in­stance — give Google’s search feed a sim­i­lar feel to the al­go­rith­mic stream of Face­book Inc.’s News Feed. That fea­ture has helped Face­book cap­ture on­line at­ten­tion in a way that few other com­pa­nies have been able to mimic.

“We want peo­ple to un­der­stand they’re con­sum­ing in­for­ma­tion from Google,” Sashi Thakur, a Google en­gi­neer­ing vice-pres­i­dent, told re­porters. “It will just be with­out a query.”

Google has long been in­ter­ested in mak­ing search more per­sonal and proac­tive. When users are logged into to their Google ac­counts, search re­sults are al­ready heav­ily per­son­al­ized. Google Now at­tempted to pro­vide sim­i­lar rel­e­vant in­for­ma­tion such as sports scores and driv­ing di­rec­tions be­fore peo­ple typed queries, but it hasn’t been as pop­u­lar as other ser­vices from the com­pany, such as tra­di­tional search, Maps and the Chrome browser.

The new pre­dic­tive search feed will get a lot more ex­po­sure be­cause it will stream on the launch page of Google’s namesake mo­bile app on An­droid and Ap­ple mo­bile de­vices be­gin­ning on Wednes­day. The com­pany is look­ing to bring it to mo­bile web browsers, al­though it didn’t say when. That means the web’s most valu­able real es­tate, Google.com, could one day look like a per­son­al­ized news feed, rather than just an empty white box wait­ing to be filled with a ques­tion or key­word.

The changes are a ma­jor step for Google, which rarely touches the land­ing page of a search ser­vice that gen­er­ates bil­lions of dol­lars a quar­ter in profit.

Google’s new search feed won’t be­have ex­actly like so­cial net­works, ac­cord­ing to com­pany ex­ec­u­tives. “This feed is re­ally about your in­ter­ests and what you are do­ing,” said Ben Gomes, a vet­eran Google search ex­ec­u­tive. “It’s not re­ally about what your friends are in­ter­ested in.” In ad­di­tion to search his­tory, the feed pulls data from users’ lo­ca­tion, email, cal­en­dars and YouTube views. The lack of a pop­u­lar, rolling stream of on­line con­tent, has been con­sid­ered one of the few weak points in Google’s busi­ness, fu­elling fre­quent takeover spec­u­la­tion of tinier so­cial net­work Twit­ter Inc.

AFP/GETTY IM­AGES FILE IM­AGE

Google’s new pre­dic­tive search feed was to be avail­able Wednes­day.

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