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Google Squared: A Great First Step

Regular readers know that I am not a Google fan boy, and that much of my commentary on Google focuses on their neglect of exploratory search. Nonetheless, when I saw the initial Youtubeware describing Google Squared a few weeks ago, my ears perked up. I decided to wait until it went live to assess it. Well, it’s live now.

The idea of Google Squared is simple: it “collects facts from the web and presents them in an organized collection, similar to a spreadsheet.” The best way to understand it is to try it. For example, search for hybrid car, and you’ll see a table of hybrids, with columns corresponding to image, description, type of transmission, yeah, and height. Add a price column if you’d like, and it will populate it for you. Very slick.

Of course, it is, as Google admits, “by no means perfect”. Most queries will show its warts, and some, like information scientists, are way off (it doesn’t even try to return results for library scientists). But it does pretty well when there is structured data out there, and it makes admirable attempt to find it! I suspect the real trick here is that it does a decent job of finding determining instances of the query category (perhaps a souped up version of work they started discussing back in 2004), and then mining structured content about those instances from repositories like Freebase.

I mean, look at these results:

To be clear, I picked these examples after a fair amount of trial and error–like Wolfram Alpha, it is hit and miss, with more miss than hit. But, as Seth Grimes said at the recent Text Analytics Summit, when Wolfram Alpha is good, it’s very very good, but when it’s bad, it’s horrid. Google Squared doesn’t fail quite so spectacularly, and it gives you a lot more of a chance to interact with it.

This is, by far, the best step I’ve seen Google take towards HCIR, and I’m impressed. It’s still a toy at this stage, but I think it has a future. My warmest congratulations to Daniel Dulitz and the rest of the magpie team that developed it; I’m looking forward to seeing it evolve.

By Daniel Tunkelang

High-Class Consultant.

23 replies on “Google Squared: A Great First Step”

I actually give them credit for launching with something this raw–and I know they are taking their blows for it. But perhaps, knowing that they’ll never have perfect accuracy, they’re setting expectations early and seeing how much people are willing to tolerate errors and even help fix them through interaction.

Unfortunately, Googlers rarely comment on blogs, let alone on mine. I’d love to hear what they have to say to a group of HCIR enthusiasts about it.

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@vlad: Northampton, MA? Vlad, are you at UMass?

@daniel: But hey.. you had Norvig comment here on your blog. So I’m sure they’re at least listening.

I think I might have to start eating some of my words, about how Google is so focused on simplicity, that they can’t take a step out of that local maximum into something better.

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Yeah, but Norvig has to defend himself–and I’m glad he alerted me to how he’d been misquoted. Here I’m saying good things about Google. The “if you blog about them, they will come” approach only works when someone’s honor is at stake. Still, can’t hurt to try.

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@jeremy: no. I’m at Endeca. Just heading West for the weekend. Also, it’s Vladimir, not Vlad. 🙂

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So I’m super pleased that Google has dipped it’s toe into HCIR but I am still chagrined this is the first taste of (HCIR interface) it most people will have.

Slightly Off Topic:
Believe it or not I think squared is a response (a bit preemptive) to what others including Evri, Newssift but especially Microsoft is doing. I know, sacrilege to suggest Google is following a Microsoft “lead” but it’s the feeling I get… Additionally I think there’s a change in the face internally at Google and the control cabal are throwing a bone to some of their HCIR advocates rather than having them walk.

Totally Off Topic (Note for Daniel):
I love Newssift (plugging it all the time) but what ever their using on the back-end to go from HTML2Text needs to be improved, there’s a lot of unrelated entities getting into the guided navigation because they are being carried forward in the scrape rather than dropped. For example a story about Google Squared in a general news post may have links to other unrelated stories at the bottom which also contain Named Entities and these entities are getting into the Guided Navigation (and they should NOT). It’s possible to fix this though. 🙂

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Sacrilege is welcome at The Noisy Channel! But whatever the reason for it, I’m glad to see some HCIR coming out of Google.

As for Newssift, I appreciate the heads up and will forward the suggestion to the team working on it.

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Google Squared seemed like “Deep Web Light” to me. They have made a few acquisitions years ago and only finally we have a usable product.

@Daniel (sorry a bit off-topic but) latest developments of Yahoo BOSS, Google Squared and Microsoft Bing makes you excited to create a consumer SE?

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Lee, there are still a lot of steps for Google past this first one, and it remains to be seen how they execute on them. But I think they’ve done well in this first one.

As for my own aspirations to take on web search, I do read my own posts. If I were to take on this space, I’d start by kicking ass on one task where Google falls short. But I’m not ready to quit my day job to take that on!

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Google Squared appears to be similar to my patent application:

Frankly, I am getting a Déjà vu effect while going through the “Google Squared” application because it appears to be very similar in function to my United States patent application which was filed on April 12, 2007 and as publicly disclosed by the United States Patent and Trademark Office on October 16, 2008, when the patent application was published.

My patent application is titled as “Method And System For Research Using Computer Based Simultaneous Comparison And Contrasting Of A Multiplicity Of Subjects Having Specific Attributes Within Specific Contexts” bearing Document Number “20080256023” and Inventor name “Nair Satheesh” which may be viewed at http://patft.uspto.gov/ upon Patent Applications: Quick Search.

Google Squared appears to be using at least some if not many of the same methods and systems as set forth by me more than two years ago in my patent application. In fact there are many more methods and systems disclosed in my patent application which I believe will help resolve certain inaccuracies found in current Google Squared application.

I have issued legal notices to Google through my Patent Attorney in the US but Google has not responded yet to any of my notices.

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Nair, I decided not to delete your comment as spam, though you do seem to be spamming every blog that mentions Google Squared. I’m not a lawyer, nor do I have any stake in Google. Moreover, my employer’s policy precludes my commenting on the merits of your claims.

Nonetheless, let me point out some general knowledge for the benefit of readers unfamiliar with patent law.

First, a published patent application is not the same as a patent–it’s like a paper that’s been submitted for publication but not vetted by the reviewers. There is no presumption of validity, and the application may ultimately be rejected by the patent office.

Second, a patent cannot validly assert to cover any material that was previously disclosed by others, whether in patents, literature, web sites, software, etc. Invalid patents sometimes get through the system because the patent office is far from perfect, but the demonstration of prior art is an effective (though sometimes expensive) means of invalidating such patents.

Third, I’m not aware of any instance where Google has lost a patent infringement suit. I suspect they have good lawyers and a predisposition to win rather than settle lawsuits, since they are an obvious target with deep pockets, and they don’t want to establish a precedent of being an ATM for patent trolls.

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