October 21, 2013
You might have noticed recently that Google has gotten a bit better at offering up direct answers to your questions? If so, there’s a reason for it: they recently flipped the switch, just in time for their 15th Birthday, on a new search algorithm they call “Hummingbird”, which focuses on parsing searches as complex questions, as well as spoken queries.
Google stressed that a new algorithm is important now that users expect more natural and conversational interactions with a search engine - for example, using their voice to speak requests into mobile phones, smart watches and other wearable technology.
Hummingbird is focused heavily on ranking information based on a more intelligent understanding of search requests, unlike its predecessor, Caffeine, which was targeted at better indexing of websites.
It is an extension of Google's "Knowledge Graph" concept - introduced last year – which was aimed at making interactions more ‘human like’. Hummingbird is more capable of understanding concepts and the relationships between them rather than simply words, which should lead to more fluid interactions between the user and the search.
In one example, shown at the presentation, a Google executive showed off a voice search through her mobile phone, asking for pictures of the Eiffel Tower. After the pictures appeared, she then asked how tall it was. After Google correctly spoke back the correct answer, she then asked "show me pictures of the construction" - at which point a list of images appeared.
Hummingbird isn't an overhaul that Google search users will instantly notice, however.
"In general, Hummingbird – Google says – is a new engine built on both existing and new parts, organized in a way to especially serve the search demands of today, rather than one created for the needs of 10 years ago, with the technologies back then," said Danny Sullivan of the search blog Search Engine Land.
It will benefit those using more modern forms of search, such as conversational or voice search, where you ask Google a question rather than typing keywords into the search box.
"The goal is that pages matching the meaning do better, rather than pages matching just a few words.
"Google said that Hummingbird is paying more attention to each word in a query, ensuring that the whole query – the whole sentence or conversation or meaning – is taken into account, rather than particular words," said Sullivan.
At the event, Google also announced an updated search app on Apple's iOS, as well as a more visible presence for voice search on its home page.