Google Hummingbird Flits In

September 27, 2013

Good news, according to many sources. Google has made changes to its ad-supported, Web search system. A representative write up is “Google Unveils Search Updates for Mobile, New Page Rank Algorithm, and Knowledge Graph Comparisons.”

What could be more useful? Google wants “to help users access information quicker, including new interfaces and features for its iOS and Android apps, along with better integration with the Knowledge Graph.”

Machine-generated comparisons and “knowledge graphs” may prove to be just what searchers like me need to obtain pinpoint results lists. Give the system a whirl. Search for “bwr pwr compare” or “compare pwr bwr” or “pwr versus bwr.” Check out the results. Oh, I guess this did not work. These are nuclear reactor types. Well, maybe in a few days.

When I search for topics like “fluidic self assembly of nanoparticles”, I checked out a knowledge graphs. Oh, I guess this did not work. To see without ads or a fee a “graph”, navigate to and try the query. Yes, better. Well, maybe in a short time Google will do the relationship thing in a way that helps me.

The write up asserts:

Google Senior Vice President and software engineer Amit Singhal took the stage afterwards to talk about the company’s future in search. Fifteen years ago, you had to go to a website on a “bulky computer”, turn it on, fire up the dial-up modem, and look up the information and wait for it to be returned. Over time, retrieving answers to questions became possible on the go with the evolution of mobile devices. Singhal says that in today’s age, we’re comfortable with finding information no matter where we are, whenever we want.


My take on “improvements” to Google search include these observations:

  1. I find it more difficult to locate information today than at any other time in my online experience.
  2. Results are no longer tied to precision and recall. Results may be hooked to agendas such as advertising revenue. Advertisers pay. The shift to mobile means that the dear Overture approach has to be tweaked. Precision and recall are tossed from the slowing revenue Camry for me.
  3. Users have zero idea about the accuracy, completeness, or provenance of most search system outputs. Sorry, but I want date and time stamps, information about index freshness, access to content across index silos, and content not distorted by the happy laborers at low cost SEO services.

I could go on, but I won’t. In my lecture at the ISS conference, I told a standing room only crowd, getting online information today in which one has confidence now requires real work. Queries must be passed against multiple search systems. Results lists must be examined carefully. Items of data must be assembled by a human into a coherent fabric. Few have an appetite for this work.

Look at the bright side. Google’s new system makes it easy to find out about Miley Cyrus, rental cars, and pizza. Useful, right?

Stephen E Arnold, September 27, 2013


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