Suddenly, Google is in the prediction business. Three new initiatives – two launched this week, one still in the lab – show that Google believes instantaneous isn’t fast enough. Right now isn’t soon enough. And the present moment is yesterday’s news.
The user’s speed of thought has become the slowest part of any Google process. So by eliminating user thoughts, or rather by thinking them for you before you think them, Google can become much faster.
Here’s what Google is up to.
Google announced today something called Google Instant. If you type in a query on a Google search you’ll notice that Google predicts the future of what you intended to type. After typing just a couple letters, or maybe just a few letters, you can choose from the options Google predicted instead of typing the whole query. This feature is available only if you use a major browser and live in the United States. It’ll be rolled out later in other countries.
Marissa Mayer, Google’s vice president of Search Product and User Experience, said. “It’s actually search before you type” not as you type.
Yes, the new feature makes searching quicker – about 2 to 5 seconds faster per search, according to Google. But what’s even more interesting is that Google says it helps you search for things even if you don’t know exactly what you’re searching for. So now you can approach Google search with a vague idea, and Google will clarify it for you.
One Google executive said during the Q&A after the announcement that test users found themselves using Google Instant to explore — they kept typing to see where the predictions would lead them.
Google has rolled out hundreds of new features in the past year, but this is the first one that fundamentally sets Google apart from the pack, at least for now.
Another predictive project, called Scribe, works in your browser when you’re doing things other than search. Scribe is a Google Labs initiative. By going to the Google Scribe page you can type a few characters and see predictive completions. But you can also use it on other web pages.
You “install” it by dragging the bookmarklet to your toolbar. Once installed, you can click on the bookmarklet button to implement Scribe on whatever page you’re working on — for example, an e-mail in Gmail.
When using Scribe, you’ll see a drop-down menu of predictions as you type. To select the prediction you want, scroll down to the option and hit the return key. Each option is numbered; you can select an option by pressing the number. You can press Esc to get rid of the menu. You can also toggle the Scribe function on and off by choosing an “on tab” option in the Scribe said he toolbar.
Scribe is a simple tool, but also sophisticated. You can sort alphabetically according to relevance or according to “expected typing savings.” Relevance isn’t based on universal relevance or even relevance to the document but relevance to the text around the cursor.
The most sophisticated sorting option is something Google calls the “Google scribe score,” which sorts according to a fuzzy-logic mix of popularity, relevance and other factors.
Google Scribe is likely to attract far fewer users than the new Google Instant feature. But it’s a very similar technology applied to a completely different usage model.
The Future of Search
Google CEO Eric Schmidt recently made comments that reveal Google’s mind about where search is going, and it’s all about prediction. Speaking at a conference, Schmidt said “if I look at enough of your messaging and your location, and use artificial intelligence, we can predict where you are going to go.”
Even more tellingly, Schmidt said. “I actually think most people don’t want Google to answer their questions. They want Google to tell them what they should be doing next.” Schmidt conjured up a world where, knowing your location, Google will remind you of things it believes you want to be reminded of.
That’s actually where Google is going. The present instant, the current moment, the right now isn’t fast enough for Google. They want the next instant they can’t wait for you to think. They want to tell you what you’re going to think before you think it.
All this prediction business serves Google as a powerful competitive advantage, and a barrier to entry for competitors. First, it demonstrates how much Google knows about you. And Google knows a lot about you – more than any other company. It knows your mind – it knows our collective minds – sometimes better than we do. You realize this when you see how accurate Google predictions are. The other competitive advantage that Google brings to bear is in the artificial intelligence applied to ranking predictive text and decision-making in general.
This combination of knowledge about you, knowledge about everyone else, artificial intelligence and the ability to learn is something that Google can do better than anyone else.
Get used to it. This is the future.
Is this a good thing or a bad thing? What should we think about all this? I don’t know, go do a Google search and find out.