Google and Semantic Search

March 15, 2012

The Wall Street Journal certainly has a scoop if one has been ignoring Google’s actions over the last five or six years. For a traditional “real” news publication owned by News Corp., the newspaper knows how to generate what I call “faux excitement.” The for fee version of the Wall Street Journal story is at although the link may go dead in a New York minute.

You will want to snag a copy of the dead tree edition of the March 15, 2012, newspaper. Turn to Section B1 and read “Google Gives Search a Refresh.” If you have don’t have an online subscription to Mr. Murdoch’s favorite newspaper, click here.

I found the write up bittersweet. An era has ended at the Google. Google is moving into the choppy waters of “smart” search. Others have been in the kayaks trying to navigate meaning for a long time. Perhaps the best known player is Autonomy, which is now the “baby tiger” at Hewlett Packard. Google wants to skip the baby tiger metaphor and jump to the semantic shark.

My research suggests that Google has been grinding away at semantic search for a while, at least a decade. There were signals about Google wanting to get beyond the “clever” linking method and the semantic techniques of Oingo (Applied Semantics) a decade ago. (Notice the word “semantics” in the company name?)

Then Google took a couple of steps forward when it landed the Transformics technologies and hired Dr. Ramanathan Guha. You can get the run down on Dr. Guha’s semantic leanings when you work through the hits for this query on Google: Ramanathan Guha semantic Web. No quotes required. Dr. Guha is the wizard behind the Programmable Search Engine, which I described in some length in Google Version 2.0: The Calculating Predator, published by the UK outfit Infonortics five years ago. The monograph may still be in print, and if you can snag a copy, you will see how Google’s wizard explains a system and method to populate “fact tables” and perform other feats of semantic legerdemain. The Wall Street Journal focuses on Google’s acquisition of Metaweb Technologies which is more along the lines of a a complementary content or fact generating system. Google has a tendency to “glue” technologies together, not toss the shark technologies out with the bathwater.

The write up is one of those fear-uncertainty-doubt maneuvers which technology companies enjoy. “Real” journalists are too savvy to fall for the shiny lures. The persistent reader will learn that there is no release date for the new Google search. This surprised me because I was sure I read and later heard that Google version 2.0 was Google Plus, not plain old search with some like touches and Blekko nuances stirred in for enhanced flavor. I must admit I was confused about a news story written in the present tense which is really about some search advances which will arrive at an indeterminate time in the future, maybe tomorrow, maybe in September when the leaves turn.

The story suggests that Google is making changes because of Microsoft Bing, Apple’s voice search, or Facebook, which has no search service of much consequence. My hunch is that Google is making changes to search for one reason: ad revenue via traditional browser based search is softening. This is bad news for anyone dependent on online advertising revenue to pay for airplanes, Davos visits, and massive television and print advertising. Forget the competitors, Google has to do something that works to pump up margins and generate massive revenue. After more than a decade of trying to diversify its revenue, Google is under the gun. If Google’s magic touch were actually working, then the company should be rolling in dough from multiple revenue streams. Where is the payoff from appliances, enterprise sales, and me-too services which have essentially zero impact on companies like Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft.

Google’s PR thrust to focus attention on how it will improve search comes too quickly after Google got “real” journalists to believe that Google 2.0 was the “social” services. Well, how has that worked out for Google? I wrote about James Whittaker’s explanation of “Why I Left Google”. If you haven’t read the Whittaker write up, click here. The passage I noted was:

I couldn’t even get my own teenage daughter to look at Google+ twice, “social isn’t a product,” she told me after I gave her a demo, “social is people and the people are on Facebook.” Google was the rich kid who, after having discovered he wasn’t invited to the party, built his own party in retaliation. The fact that no one came to Google’s party became the elephant in the room.

Net net: Google has been in the semantic game a long time. Semantic technology is now in operation at Google, just as plumbing. Now Google wants to expose the pipes and drains.

The reason?

Semantic are hoped to give Google more hooks on which to hang advertising messages. Without something new, revenue growth at Google may degrade at a time when Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft continue to grow. The unthinkable? Nope, the reality.

Stephen E Arnold, March 15, 2012

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One Response to “Google and Semantic Search”

  1. Roger Barrow on March 19th, 2012 1:11 pm

    This link is a glimpse at the real future of search:

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