By Amit Singhal
If you read newspapers or websites these days, it’s understandable if you conclude a couple of things about the search business: First, Google stands unchallenged; and second, search as a service is largely figured out.
But you’d be wrong on both fronts.
In fact, as the person responsible for trying to make our search engine function better, I can attest to the fact that we face challenges – serious ones – all the time. Far from being a solved problem, search is constantly evolving.
To understand where we are today, we need to go back to 2001. Back then, we had already built a better way to organize the online universe, making a wealth of information widely accessible. But when Al Qaeda attacked the U.S. on Sept. 11, we realized we were woefully inadequate.
Hours after airplanes hit the twin towers, a Google search for “World Trade Center” showed links to an association of trade centers, the World Trade Center in Boston and the observation deck of the fallen Tower 2. There was nothing about the devastating attack.
It was frustrating and humbling to stumble when people needed us. The best we could do was put a link on our homepage suggesting users seek up-to-date information on TV or radio.
In the weeks and months that followed, we set out to reinvent our search engine. We realized that, up to that point, Google had made only a small step in the right direction. There was a lot to accomplish. Innovation had to become our permanent goal.
The next year, we added news articles to Google search. We didn’t stop there. Our search results, once just 10 blue links on a page, evolved into a rich mix of maps, images, videos and more. And rather than just providing links, we’re increasingly finding immediate answers to your questions.
After all, when you type “diameter of Saturn” into Google, you want the answer – 120,536 kilometers – not a bunch of links. Enter “AA12,” and we think you’re looking to find out whether the American Airlines flight from San Francisco to New York is on time. Users who ask “2+2” probably want some math help – not links to websites with the number 4! The list goes on and on.
Today, information appears before you’ve even finished typing. Your voice alone can navigate the Internet, in scores of languages. We’ve added a powerful search engine to your mobile phone, helping you navigate city streets, pick a local restaurant and connect with a friend who happens to be in the neighborhood.
This week, we took another step toward helping you find answers even faster. We announced Instant Pages – which, when activated, gets the top search result ready in the background while you’re choosing which link to click. That way, when you do click, the page loads instantly – saving you yet another two to five seconds on typical searches.
Because sometimes, what separates you from the answer you’re looking for is just plain time. Instant Pages demonstrates again that we’re still trying to make a great search engine better.
Many features we’ve launched in recent years have transformed how people find information. Over a decade, the sum of these improvements and innovations equals great progress.
By forcing ourselves to keep reinventing our search engine, we’ve achieved more than we ever expected – helping bring the world closer to an era in which everyone, anywhere and at any time, can access ideas and information.
We’ve met a lot of challenges and, in the U.S. and elsewhere, earned a greater following than our competitors. We did that by giving our users something that – whether or not they notice every change – gets better every day.
Search is an uncertain business – we’re only as good as the answer we provided on your last search. So unearthing the most relevant information and staying one step ahead of what you want is what will determine whether we continue to succeed.
Amit Singhal is a Google fellow and head of Google Search.