Google Makeover Is a Catch-Up Step in the Right Direction

07/06/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

On May 5, Google announced a new navigational bar for their search results along with new contextually relevant search tools -- and took a step in right direction towards becoming an application. John Battelle, one of the search industry's big thinkers wrote a thoughtful piece on why this is a necessary move for Google -- to deliver search as an application rather than as purely simple keyword search. I couldn't agree more.

As Google said in its announcement, the addition of contextually relevant left-hand navigation to search results is in response "to the increasing richness of the web and the increasing power of search." But Google is late in providing its enhanced layout and more sophisticated tools. Much of what Google announced is already standard design for Bing, and common in many professional search based applications. All are providing some level of filtering or faceting, which can make a huge difference in user productivity given the enormous complexity of the web.

Professional applications have to be a great deal higher productivity than consumer applications because in the office, time is money. For example, at my company FirstRain we use sophisticated analytics to transform the web into a normalized data set that can be searched intelligently to uncover trends, anomalies and events for sales and marketing people and for professional investors. This makes it possible for users to do in minutes what would take hours to do using traditional keyword search. While Google has taken a step forward with their search engine, their search results and those of Bing, Yahoo and Ask are still a mixed bag of results which may or may not be useful to you. It's the unavoidable consequence of general keyword search.

Take the wind power example that Google used in its announcement. The results they showcased include news and information from traditional media sources, nongovernmental organizations and online sources such as Wikipedia. The left-hand navigation offers the ability to refine results by time and by news, blogs, images, books and more. Related search terms such as solar power, hydropower and geothermal energy are also listed. It's definitely a big improvement over early technologies.

In contrast though, what the business person needs is an intelligent business search on wind power. Fresh, business relevant results and navigation for the businesses in the industry and the ecosystem of companies engaged in the wind energy industry -- wind power generation and distribution. Recent events, industry trends, people-related changes and management turnover are all detectable and attached to the search results (here). For example, users can identify planned commercial wind-turbine installations; track key components, parts and raw materials used in their construction; and identify suppliers poised to benefit from investments in wind power. Search result reports can be delivered regularly via email or mobile phone so that users stay on top of new developments. It's efficient, real-time and immediately useful information that can enable smart decision-making.

That's search as a professional app. Bing started the journey for consumers; Google took a step in that direction this week. But it is just a small first step and this technology area will develop very fast over the next year.