Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Fifteen Years In, Google Revamps Its Search Algorithm and Celebrates Its Roots

Google has “changed engines midflight,” search leader Amit Singhal announced today. Not that anyone noticed, or that Google can even describe what changed in layman’s terms. But, about a month ago, the company swapped out its search-ranking algorithm for a new one, code-named Hummingbird, that can handle more complex queries faster.

“People are trusting search more,” Singhal explained, so Google users are asking longer and more complicated queries. Where the Boolean this-or-that style of search used to work fine with words and documents, it deteriorated with concepts and relationships, Singhal said.

Google had last revamped its search engine in 2010, calling that boost Caffeine and replacing years of incremental improvements to the original Google PageRank. Singhal touted the importance of the most recent changes, saying, “Periodically, that steady march changes into a leap forward.”

Google’s original garage was at 232 Santa Margarita Avenue in Menlo Park. The house is preserved as it was at the time.

Singhal was speaking at an event at the original Google worldwide headquarters at a pleasant bungalow in Menlo Park, Calif., where the company took up residence after it first raised funding, and then grew to seven employees while borrowing space at the home of Susan Wojcicki. She later joined the company and is now senior vice president in charge of ads and commerce.

The occasion was what Google considers its 15th anniversary, tomorrow. “Google doesn’t usually look back,” Wojcicki said today. But she said that the company has stayed true to its original ambitions. “We were thinking big then, just not as many people were listening.”

Singhal and Google search VP Tamar Yehoshua then previewed some additional new features, saying they extended Google’s three big search goals of answering, conversing and anticipating.

For instance, users will now be able to enter queries like “compare Earth and Neptune” and get structured charts about the various measurements and features of the planets. Or “compare coconut oil and olive oil” and see their relative nutritional information.

Yehoshua demoed a hodgepodge of search application improvements, like push notifications on iOS, the ability to subscribe to updates about notable people in Google Now, and various other design tweaks.

So: A combination of little features, some big underlying changes you probably won’t notice, and a birthday.

Bonus: Here’s a Vine of the original Google office (Larry Page’s desk on the left, Sergey Brin’s on the right). Much of the furniture is the original, but some Googlers recently added old computers and a dial-up Internet connection to give it more of a vintage 1998 feel.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work