Kara Swisher

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Liveblogging the Google Search Event: Gutenberg, Goggles and Scrolling Real-Time Search!


Please see this disclosure related to me and Google.

Right now, BoomTown is sitting right behind the very affable Jason Hirschhorn, chief product officer of MySpace, who is here to make one of the many partner announcements with Google at its “search event” in Silicon Valley today.

I also ran right into Twitter’s Biz Stone at the coffee stand. He is also here to talk about the new features Google (GOOG) is adding to its search repertoire, although he is remaining mum until the program starts in five minutes.

It’s about real-time search, of course, given that the partners visiting today are all real-time search folks.

The confab–being held at the Computer History Museum near the Googleplex HQ–is essentially Google’s rejoinder to last week’s event by Microsoft (MSFT), which announced a bunch of new features for its Bing search service, including mapping updates.

Of course, because it is Google, the sound system rocks, the food is better and it is more overproduced than “Dancing With the Stars.”

10:13 am PT: The event is opened by Marissa Mayer, who runs search products and user experience for Google.

And it takes exactly 13 seconds for there to be a classic Silicon Valley buzzword. Modes! Translation: It is how we use the Web.

Mayer is outlining Google’s key components in the future of search. Along with modes, they are media, language and personalization.

“We are a company that likes to launch early and often,” she said, adding that Google has launched 33 search innovations in 67 days.

In other words, take that, Bing. Oh, dear, giant Google just boasted about its innovation cred and is apparently a little worried about weensie Bing.

10:18 am: Mayer welcomes Vic Gundotra, VP of engineering, who will talk about mobile search.

He begins by noting that no one knows where all the new innovations in computing will lead, much as no one got the Gutenberg press way back in the olden days.

Professor Gundotra then launches into a computing history lesson, with stops at Moore’s Law (better, faster, cheaper) and how one understood all the zillions of computing connections that would occur.

The “missing ingredient,” noted Gundotra, is the cloud.

Next, he moves to a demo to show where Google is headed. Gundotra nails a voice query on an Android phone about President Obama at the G8 Summit with the French president. Everyone cheers.

Gundotra now tries to top himself with a Mandarin query for McDonald’s in Beijing. He sticks it.

He then announces support for the voice search on mobile devices for Japan, bringing up a Japanese speaker.

One voice query is a very long one for a favorite restaurant in Tokyo near the Google office there. Does Google find it? Of course Google does.

“Our dreams at Google go way beyond what you just saw,” says Gundotra, who opines on a real-time interpreter on the phone. Of course, he demos the interpreter, which he said will show up sometime in 2010.

It works, again. Natch! These are big-brained dudes here at Google, so don’t mess with them.

10:30 am: Gundotra moves to locations, which he says will be a key element of future versions of Google search. You know, Red Sox comes up in Boston, data appear for nearby stores for digital cameras.

He shows off the “Near Me Now” feature, which is kind of like those many Apple (AAPL) iPhone apps, like Yelp. It explores stuff nearby. It will be available on Google mobile maps for Android right away.

Next, he announces a Google Labs project called Google Goggles, which takes pictures of something and then identifies it. I have seen this kind of thing in a lot of labs at various tech companies.

Gundotra, who is a slick dude at presentations, uses the example of being a wine expert without being one. He scans a wine bottle and then Google quickly shows info on it.

Oooooh, aaaaaah.

Gundotra uses the service to identify a Japanese landmark successfully.

Someday, he predicts, your phone will be a “mouse pointer” to the world.

10:42 am: Back to Mayer, who talks about media relevancy in search. Google Fellow Amit Singhal is the man on deck.

“What we’re going to announce today is one of the most exciting things in my career,” said Singhal, who first launches into a short history of information flow.

Campfires, more Gutenberg! Also some pictures of old Google servers. I feel so educated; plus, Singhal is pretty funny for a supergeek.

Now, he gets to the news: “We are here today to announce Google real-time search.”

The demo is launched and it shows news scrolling as it is produced. “This is the first time ever,” enthuses Singhal.

It looks cool, but reminds me a lot of old tickers that used to be in the newsroom at the Washington Post. You know, the kind of newspaper that Google is often accused of killing off.

Irony alert! I wonder if that will scroll up soon.

The scrolling also includes Twitter updates. One tweet by Googler Matt Cutts about the Google real-time search launch showed up immediately.

The latest results will be available on the search options and in preferences and will also be hyperlocal and mobile on the iPhone and Android.

“Real-time search becomes incredibly powerful, since it shows you exactly what you need in your geography,” said Singhal.

Singhal is a font of news. He also announces that Google Trends is moving out of the labs and will also show real-time results.

He launches into the “how” of how Google did all this. Well, it was really, really hard, said Singhal, because there are a badillion real-time pieces of data out there to analyze and render.

And which company, with its massive computing power, can make this relevant and hand over the info quickly? Three guesses, and the first two don’t count.

Recap: Real-time search, latest search option, update option, mobile real-time search and Google Trends in the real-time world.

“At Google we will not be satisfied,” said Singhal, until Google can get you info at the speed of light.

11:07 am: Just to stick a true fork into anything Microsoft could come up with, Mayer comes back up and announces Google’s Facebook, MySpace and Twitter partnerships as part of the launch of real-time search.

Facebook will be sending in public feeds and MySpace is providing all of them, as is Twitter.

Google now has eyes and ears, says Mayer. When it gets a whole body, get ready to run for your life.

Q&A time!

The first question is about whether Goggles could have facial recognition. Gundotra says Google could do that, but will not until the privacy issues are worked out. Operative thought here: Google is capable of doing this. Eek!

The next question is about advertising opportunities in these new features. Singhal does not really answer, but says businesses will develop.

The next question is about how much content Google is crawling. Answer: About a billion pages a day.

Gundotra adds that the first launch is only available on English-speaking locales. But it will move into other languages next year.

What about spammers taking advantage of real-time search? Oh, says Singhal, they will get a beat-down from Matt Cutts, who is in charge of spam-killing at Google.

Wouldn’t that make a good reality show? “The Spam Hunters!”

About questions on real-time partnerships, Mayer said Google wanted to be comprehensive.

Mayer will not disclose the details of any financial payments for these real-time feeds. Of course, Google is paying up.

And now a question about whether Google will limit development on non-Android phones. “Absolutely not,” says Gundrotra.

At last, a zinger question: Do you feel that Google will be responsible for the death of journalism and doesn’t that make Google a scary black hole of, presumably, evil?


Singhal casts about for an answer, which is mostly about bringing info to users, which is not an answer.

“It’s really about user empowerment,” he says. Uh-oh, we’re doomed!

Mayer jumps in nervously to shoot this meme down and says Google is about facilitation and not decimation.

The PR dude onstage also throws in the boilerplate about Google sending gazillions of clicks all over.

But the point is made: Today Google–which owns universal search–just made its big move in real-time search.

The next question is about the difference between Google’s practice of wanting people off the page and onto the Web and Microsoft Bing’s focus on topic pages of rich information.

Mayer is sticking with quick on and off for Google.

And what about junk information on the silly side that comes with more real-time search, like dead celebs who are not dead, or really untrue information on important issues?

It’s a hard problem, says Singhal, who says Google is working on it.

What about disabling the real-time updates rather than just being able to turn them on and off. Nope, says Singhal. Mayer notes that this may change.

But the truth is: With the big search giant jumping in, real-time search is most definitely here to stay.

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus