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Google search turns 20

100% human

What were you doing in 1997? I was using Netscape on Windows 95 – as you did. But after AOL took over Netscape Search, I swapped to Google search as it gave better results.

Google search has come a long way. Back then the world wide web had just 25 million web pages (and I registered a two-letter domain name – rare as hen’s teeth these days).

Google search

Google’s original altruistic mission was ‘to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.’

Google says it has remained true to that mission along the way. But it discovered it could monetise search. I won’t comment on that except to say that you can’t run a business without income and where a product is free – you are the product.

To a large degree, Google’s mission remains. You can anonymously search, use ad-blockers, remove tracks and more and still use the search service for free.

How does Google search work?

Google Search is the most used search engine on the internet. It hands billions of queries daily and provides the most relevant matches first. Of those queries only 15% are unique, so it learns how to better answer those by reviewing user reaction to search.

To get that information Google bots crawl the web and index text and later images and voice. It then applies a range of filters (like looking for plagiarism) and relevance to assign a page ranking. But keyword search is only the beginning.

Google now includes Universal search. It incorporates a wide variety of sources, including websites, news, pictures, maps, blogs, videos, and more, all shown on the same search results page.

And finally is the addition of natural language search allowing users to ask questions and receive hopefully relevant answers.

Where is Google search heading?

Three fundamental shifts drive the next chapter in how Google thinks about Search:

The shift from answers to journeys: To help you resume tasks where you left off and learn new interests and hobbies, we’re bringing new features to Search that help you with ongoing information needs.

The shift from queries to providing a queryless way to get to information: We can surface relevant information related to your interests, even when you don’t have a specific query in mind.

And the shift from text to a more visual way of finding information: We’re bringing more visual content to Search and completely redesigning Google Images to help you find information more easily.

Underpinning each of these are advancements in AI, improving the ability to understand the language in ways that weren’t possible when Google first started.

Neural networks can help from understanding words to understanding concepts. Neural embeddings, an approach developed in the field of neural networks, allow transformation of words to fuzzier representations of the underlying concepts, and then match the concepts in the query with the concepts in the document.

Google search