look like in a few years? The companydoesn't know yet. But you do.
Sure, Google has a lot of new applications and big plans up itssleeve, and it's not going to talk about them until they're ready forprime time. But it has no idea which ones will fly and which won't -- which ones willcapture the hearts and minds of users, and which will sit neglected atthe bottom of the company's toy box.
That's where you come in. The more ambitious applications thatGoogle has launched in the past year or so are designed to spur yourparticipation. Not just because the company wants your attention and loyalty,as any Web site does. But because the more Google wants to organizethe growing ocean of information on the Web, the more it needs to studyyou.
Whenever you do a search on Google, you're not just getting helpful results. You -- along with millions of other people -- are giving the company real-time feedback on how people use the Internet, how we find information and ultimately, how we think about everything.
This is the link between Google's search engine as we know it todayand its big dreams to usher in an age of sophisticated and ubiquitousartificial intelligence. Somewhere along the way, Google has realizedthat building algorithms that second-guess its users isn't enough -- italso has to mimic how we think. And to do that, Google needs to know ourthinking better than we know it ourselves.
So, it's no coincidence that some of the company's biggest productlaunches have invited more input than simple search terms. Last year saw the rollout of Google Video, a move that seemed obvious at a timewhen broadband content was growing more common but that also helped thecompany study what kind of videos people wanted to upload, what kindother people wanted to watch, and how those two desires interacted.
That was just the start. Last fall, it introduced Google Base, a venue for people to post their own content -- everything from recipes to clinical trial data to information on homes they were selling. It wasmeant to let users build a kind of clearinghouse on any and all kinds ofinformation but also to let Google watch how they built it, and why.
Then, last week, came Google Co-Op, an enhancement to Google'salgorithm-driven search engine that shapes vertical, or specialized,searches according to tags that users set up and others vote on. Inessence, the new product will allow Google to tinker with its algorithmsto make them better mimic how people select content when they tagcomments -- or use others' tags.
Like Google Base, Google Co-Op was given a name that doesn't quiteexplain what the product is supposed to offer. But according to CEO EricSchmidt, both offerings will be used to create more intelligent searches. At theshareholders meeting last week, Schmidt said, "Google Co-Op is aboutusers classifying and structuring data and using it in a personalindex." He also said the company wants to "take data from Google Baseand apply it to user's answers in interesting ways."
Google Base is especially important as vertical searches become abigger part of the Web's growth potential. When Web surfers search on"Jessica Alba," there's little doubt what they are looking for. But asearch on "cholesterol drug" could be coming from a patient, a doctor ora class-action attorney -- all looking for different information.
As the Web has evolved to allow specialized communities such as
MySpace or the start-up site Digg to form and flourish, theopportunity has arisen to create vertical search engines to meet theirneeds.
was the first to charge into this areawith its A9 search engine, but
has gotten a boost bybuying successful community-driven sites such as del.icio.us and Flickr.
But Google is opting to create its own communities through Base and Co-Op, perhaps so it can watch how they take root and then mature. Its approach is not without some risk. Base has been slow to become a threat to sites like
and its affiliate Craigslist, asconventional wisdom feared it would when it was launched.
And initial reviews on the beta product of Co-Op weren't good. Somebloggers complained it was just too difficult to create the tags. DannySullivan at
Search Engine Watch
wrote that he even hadtrouble subscribing as a user. "Digg is the only news provider listed atthe moment. I subscribed to see how it works," he wrote. "Not too well.Perhaps not at all. Searches for Google, Playstation, Nintendo -- alltopics on Digg right now -- brought nothing up. Hmm."
Such complaints aren't likely to deter Google. The company willdevelop the products to entice more users, and if that doesn't work, itwill roll out new applications until one catches on and gets a chanceto study how we think. Or it's likely to partner with major sites --Co-Op with, say, MySpace and Base with a big e-commerce player.
Google is relentless in making its search products smarter -- maybeone day smarter than humans. Co-founder Sergey Brin often promotes hissci-fi vision about what Google might become. In last year's book
, Brin said, ''Perhaps in the future, we can attach alittle version of Google that you just plug into your brain.'' Afterall, as he told
in March, "If you had all the world's information directly attached to your brain, or an artificial brain that was smarter than your brain, you'd be better off."
If those quotes creep you out or conjure images of Sergey of Borg,maybe you're just not smart enough yet to see their wisdom. So, go ahead.Dive on into Google. Let it absorb you. Let it add your biological andtechnological distinctiveness to its own. Resistance is futile. You willbe assimilated.
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