SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Google is creating an information bridge between its influential Internet search engine and its widely used Gmail service in its latest attempt to deliver more personal responses more quickly.
The experimental feature unveiled Wednesday will enable Google's search engine to mine the correspondence stored within a user's Gmail account for any data tied to a search request. For example, a query containing the word "Amazon" would pull emails with shipping information sent by the online retailer.
Such Gmail results will typically be shown to the right of the main results, though in some instances, the top of the search page will highlight an answer extracted directly from an email. For example, the request "my flight" will show specific airline information imported from Gmail. Something similar could eventually happen when searching for a restaurant reservation or tickets to a concert.
Although Google has a commanding lead in Internet search, it remains worried about the threat posed by social networking services such as Facebook Inc. As social networks have made it easier to share information online, the Web is starting to revolve more around people than the keywords and links that Google's search engine.
Google has been trying to adapt by building more personal services and plugging them into its search engine.
Blending email information into general search results could raise privacy worries. Google is trying to mitigate that by showing Gmail results in a collapsed format that users must open to see the details. For now, users must sign up to participate.
Google Inc. ran into trouble over privacy in 2010 when it tapped the personal contact information within Gmail accounts to build a social networking service called Buzz. Google set up Buzz in a way that caused many users to inadvertently expose personal data from Gmail. An uproar culminated in a Federal Trade Commission settlement requiring the company to improve its privacy controls and undergo audits for 20 years.
Google is treading carefully as it hooks Gmail up to its Internet search engine. The new feature initially will be available to 1 million Gmail users who sign up at http://g.co/searchtrial . That's a small fraction of the more than 425 million Gmail accounts that have been set up since Google launched its free email service eight years ago to compete against the offerings from Yahoo Inc. and Microsoft Corp.
After getting feedback from the test participants, Google hopes to give all Gmail users the option of plugging their accounts into the main search engine, according to Amit Singhal, a senior vice president for the company.
Singhal said Google is also willing to display information from other email service in its main search results. The gesture could avoid spurring additional complaints about Google abusing its position as the Internet's search leader to favor its other services. That issue is the focal point of an antitrust investigation by antitrust regulators in the U.S. and Europe.
Microsoft said it has no plans to make information in its competing Web mail service available to Google's search engine. Yahoo, which operates another Gmail rival, had no comment.
When it started in 2004, Gmail provided 1 gigabyte of free storage, an amount that was unheard of at the time. Now, many long-time Gmail users have 10 gigabytes of storage. That has turned Gmail into a valuable storehouse of personal information going back several years.
Gmail users already can pluck information contained in old correspondence by conducting a search within Gmail. Google is betting Gmail users will appreciate being able to eliminate a step by including any relevant email information alongside the results of its main search page.
In the process, Google is hoping Web surfers will have even more reasons to use its dominant search engine, which already processes more than 100 billion requests every month.
Luring more queries is crucial to Google because they give the company more opportunities to show the ads that generate most of its revenue, which is expected to exceed $49 billion this year.
Personal information from Google Plus, a social networking service started last year to compete with Facebook, has been featured in Google's main search results since January.
Ultimately, Google hopes to know enough about each of its users so it can answer their questions with the precision and insight of the artificial intelligence that so far has been the stuff of science fiction.
"The destiny of search is to become that perfect Star Trek computer," Singhal said.
In another step toward that goal, Google said Wednesday that it will soon be releasing an improved version of its voice-powered search application for Apple Inc.'s iPhone and iPad.
Google released the tool last month on its Nexus 7 tablet computer and other devices running on the latest version of its Android mobile operation system. The version for Apple's operating system, expected within a week, will be an alternative to Siri, the built-in virtual assistant on the iPhone 4S.
The now-ubiquitous Gmail -- Google's email product -- was unlike any previous email service when it was introduced <a href="http://googlepress.blogspot.com/2004/04/google-gets-message-launches-gmail.html" target="_hplink">in 2004</a>. It featured way more storage space (1 GB per user), search capability within your email, and conversion view, which groups together all replies to the original message to keep the conversation in a single thread. It also included a built-in chat service. <em>CORRECTION</em>: An earlier version of this slide stated the Gmail was launched in 2007. It was actually launched in 2004.
Google Mars (2006)
Google worked with NASA researchers to create a detailed, digital map of the planet Mars. <a href="http://www.google.com/mars/" target="_hplink">Google Mars</a> works similarly to Google Earth -- except you're navigating around a far-off planet. Users can explore regions, mountains, plains, canyons, craters and other elements.
Google Sky (2007)
<a href="http://www.google.com/sky/" target="_hplink">Google Sky,</a> the outer space version of Google Earth, is a way to explore the sky from your computer or mobile device. Click the Sky button on the Google Earth toolbar and you can see constellations, the moon, the planets, and user guides giving information on each. And, of course, there's a search bar to locate whatever part of the sky you're looking for. If you're unfamiliar, <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gX9MeF2Au9c&feature=player_embedded#!" target="_hplink">this YouTube video</a> gives a good guide.
Google Reader (2007)
<a href="www.google.com/reader" target="_hplink">Google Reader</a> is a web-based news aggregator. It utilizes RSS feeds and included sharing capability until October, 2011, when this feature was <a href="http://www.theatlanticwire.com/technology/2011/10/how-survive-switch-google-reader-google/44069/" target="_hplink">disabled and replaced</a> with a Google+ button.
Google Moderator (2008)
<a href="https://www.google.com/moderator/" target="_hplink">Google Moderator</a> ranks user-submitted questions that come in during an online discussion. It was first created to help moderate the company's tech talks, and was later used by President Barack Obama's team to sift through Americans' questions for the newly elected president. It works like this: Participants can submit questions or ideas, and other participants vote on them. This crowdsourcing technique helps identify the questions and ideas with the most support or interest from the group.
Google Body (2010)
Google Body allowed users to navigate through 3D anatomical models of the human body. Google Body ceased operation in Oct. 2011 -- when Google Labs shut down -- and will relaunch as Zygote Body. <a href="http://www.zygotebody.com/" target="_hplink">Zygote Body</a> will be a searchable, interactive 3D model of human anatomy. Check out this video for a look at the former Google Body.
Google Docs (2010)
<a href="docs.google.com" target="_hplink">Google Docs,</a> a web-based office suite that includes word documents, spreadsheets and other formats, was innovative for a few reasons. One, the documents are accessible from any computer or device. Two, they're collaborative: You can share documents with coworkers or friends and read or edit them simultaneously. The docs also automatically save as you go, protecting the work from browser crashes or other accidents. Google Docs is a combination of two previous company projects: Google Spreadsheets and a web-based processor, Writely. There have been several iterations in the past five years, with the mostly completed version announced in 2010.
Google Goggles (2011)
<a href="http://www.google.com/mobile/goggles/#text" target="_hplink">Google Goggles</a> is on the cutting-edge of visual search. The product enables users to search with images instead of words -- basically you take a picture of something, and Google will recognize it and pull up search results on it. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/12/07/google-goggles-search-by-_n_382871.html" target="_hplink">See a demonstration here</a>.
Google X (2011)
A November <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/14/technology/at-google-x-a-top-secret-lab-dreaming-up-the-future.html?_r=2&pagewanted=all" target="_hplink"> <em>New York Times</em> piece</a> gave a glimpse into Google's super-secret "Google X" lab, where the company is dreaming up innovative ideas for the future, like elevator that goes to outer space, driverless cars, and all manner of robots. In January 2012, Google announced an experimental lecture forum called "<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/06/google-unveils-solve-for-_n_1258870.html" target="_hplink">Solve For X</a>," with an aim at solving "moonshot thinking." As Google <a href="http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2012/02/whats-your-x-amplifying-technology.html" target="_hplink">explained in a blog post</a>, the project will "take on global-scale problems, define radical solutions to those problems, and involve some form of breakthrough technology that could actually make them happen."