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Future of Search

When it started, Google offered Search in English, and indexed some 25 million web pages. Today, Google indexes hundreds of billions of pages and offers Search in 150 languages in over 190 countries.



While the volume of information, the languages, the features, the countries and the usefulness of search have increased substantially since, the core principles of Search have remained unchanged in the past 20 years. Google’s focus is on the user, aiming to give them the most relevant, highest quality information as quickly as possible, using an algorithmic approach, and rigorously testing every change it makes. Last year alone, Google ran more than 200,000 experiments that resulted in 2,400+ changes to search.

The next chapter of Search will be driven by three fundamental shifts in how Google thinks about Search:

  • The shift from answers to journeys: To help users resume tasks where they left off and learn new interests and hobbies, Google is introducing bringing new features to Search. These include Activity cards that help users retrace their search steps, Collections to help keep track of search activity, Dynamic organisation of search results to help users see what the next, most relevant information around a query is, and a new Topic Layer in Knowledge Graph

  • The shift from queries to providing a queryless way to get to information: We can surface relevant information related to your interests, even when you don’t have a specific query in mind, using the Google Feed which was launched last year. Google has renamed it to Discover and given it a new look and feel including new topic headers to explain why you’re seeing it. Next to each topic name is a Discover icon – tap “Follow” to start seeing more about that topic.

Discover also has new features, including more videos, fresh content and evergreen content and you can control what you see in the feed by indicating if you want more or less of it (using the Control icon).

  • The shift from text to a more visual way of finding information: Google is bringing more visual content to Search and completely redesigning Google Images to help users find information more easily. Earlier this year Google announced AMP Stories, which publishers are experimenting with and providing people a more visual way to get information. These stories will now be shown on on Google Images and Discover. Google will also be featuring videos in Search to help people visually preview topics they’re interested in, using computer vision to understand the content of a video and help users quickly find the most useful information.

Additionally, Google has overhauled the Google images algorithm to rank results that have both great images and great content on a page, prioritising sites where the image is central to the page and higher up on the page and showing more context around images, including captions that show the title of the webpage where each image is published. This has already been introduced on mobile, and now is being rolled out to the desktop, where a larger screen is important for complex tasks.

Lastly, Google Lens is being introduced to Google Images to help users explore and learn about content they find in their searches. Lens’ AI technology analyses images and detects objects of interest within them. If you select one of these objects, Lens will show you relevant images, many of which link to product pages so you can continue your search or buy the item you’re interested in.

All of the above features and changes are a result of Google’s advancements in AI, which allow it to understand language in a way it couldn’t before. Neural networks can now help Google take a leap forward from understanding words to understanding concepts. Neural embeddings allow Google to transform words to fuzzier representations of the underlying concepts and then match the concepts in the query with the concepts in the document – a technique called ‘neural matching’. This can enable us to address queries like: “why does my TV look strange?” to surface the most relevant results for that question, even if the exact words aren’t contained in the page.

Providing greater access to information is fundamental to what Google does, and there are always more ways it can help people access the information they need. That’s what pushes  the company forward to continue to make Search better for its users. And that’s why its work here is never done.

Brief history of Search:

Google was founded by Sergey Brin and Larry Page – it started as a research project the two were conducting as PhD students at Stanford University in California in 1995. Working from their dorm rooms, they built a search engine to determine the importance of individual pages on the Web. They named it Backrub initially, but soon renamed it Google – a play on the word googol – the number 1 followed by 100 zeros.

The project attracted attention and by 1998, a cheque for $100 000 from Sun co-founder Andy Bechtolsheim, allowed Page & Brin to officially found Google Inc.

With the investment they upgraded to the now famous garage in Menlo Park, California owned by Susan Wojcicki – employee #16 and now CEO of YouTube.

Google today has more than 60 000 employees across 50 countries and makes hundreds of products used by billions of people across the world, from YouTube to Android, and, of course, Google Search. Google processes over 40,000 search queries every second on average, which translates to over 3.5 billion searches per day and 1.2 trillion searches per year worldwide. We can therefore estimate more than 20 trillion search queries in the past 20 years.

How South Africans use search:

South Africans love sport – we see trending sport topics generate search queries in the hundreds of thousands on a daily basis. That is followed by topical current affairs issues and popular culture queries. The “near me” query is used quite a lot, whether people are looking for medical facilities such as pharmacies, food outlets and even jobs.

This week Heritage Day, the soapie Uzalo, Edna Molewa, Kaizer Chiefs vs Amazulu and even Lil Wayne were amongst the top searches.

South Africans also use Google for very functional purposes: Google has helped ordinary South Africans with practical life-hacks in the areas of health, education, employment and life in general.

Bridget used Google to search HTML coding solutions for years. “Google took me from tables to databases, from receptionist to director of my own company. My ever-present coach and mentor. Now, as I start building a new company, Google is there with new ideas and solutions to new problems.“  

Nqobile says, “I didn’t know I was in labour. Everything my midwife told me I would feel or experience didn’t happen that way or feel that way. I Googled the ‘symptoms’ while lying on the couch and Google told me to go to the hospital! If it wasn’t for my dear friend Google, it would have been a messy home birth.”  

Nomaswazi didn’t have money to buy textbooks when she was studying, as she was paying for her fees, Google helped her with preparing for her exams ‒  and she passed them all.

Google search taught Denzil how to change the headlights on his girlfriend’s car, which included removing the bumper. He’s since learnt how to service his own car.