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May 12, 2009

Richer Snippets, Results Filtering, Impressive Visualizations


Google's Searchology event was a great opportunity to show that Google's search engine not only indexes and ranks web pages, it also categorizes the content available on the web, it extracts information that can be visualized in new and interesting ways.

The first feature launched today is "search options", a new sidebar that can be expanded right on the search results page and that offers a lot of interesting features. You can restrict the results to videos, forums, reviews or recent pages. While you could already use services like Google Groups, Google Video or Google News to obtain similar results, this feature lets you easily switch between the various types of pages and combine different restrictions.

One of the most impressive option is the restriction to reviews, which shows special snippets obtained using sentiment analysis. You'll be able to find directly from the snippets if the author liked a certain product or service, the main advantages and disadvantages and other opinionated excerpts.


The "search options" sidebar also includes the "wonder wheel", a great visualization feature that lets you improve your query by trying different suggestions successively. For example, I could start by searching for "DVD" and then selecting related searches like "HD DVD", "HD DVD vs Blu-ray", "Blu-ray", while previewing the results and still being able to go to the previous search results.




After enhancing the snippets for discussion boards, scientific papers using metadata extracted automatically, Google looked into using structured data already included in some web pages to surface useful information in the search results. Much like Yahoo Searchmonkey, Google uses RDFa markup and microformats to extract information from sites that show reviews and information about people. You'll only see the enhanced snippets for large sites like CNet, Yelp and LinkedIn, but Google promises to expand the list.


The last search-related announcement was a new service that will be released in Google Labs this month: Google Squared, a dashboard of facts generated automatically. You can search for general things like "small dogs", "vegetables", "US presidents" and Google generates a list of objects that fit into your category, a set of attributes and their values. It looks like a comparison page from Wikipedia, but it's generated automatically.


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