I’m at the “Google Factory Tour,” which is presenting bloggers and the press with an update on the state of search and search-related product development at Google. Apparently there are going to be some updates on Google Health later. The first announcement today, however, is about the integration of image ads (with text) in Google image search.
The screenshots that I saw looked very much like existing AdWords but included thumbnails of product images tied to the text copy.
The other discussions so far have been a review of recent announcements and product developments in News, Finance, Labs and Local. Essentially, it’s “this is what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.” Director of Product Management for Local, Carter Maslan, explained the various challenges of local and recent Maps innovations. He spent a good deal of time discussing user generated content on Maps — “annotating the planet” — and cited stats that there are 50 million Maps/Earth users per month.
Maslan, impressively, pointed out numerous examples where Google isn’t doing such a good job on local search. A cool demo involved the integration of StreetView into Earth and the ability to “fly,” relatively seamlessly, from the 3D aerial view to the StreetView.
Universal Search was reviewed by search quality product manager Johanna Wright, who discussed the challenges of integrating multiple content types, which now include video, maps, news, books, images, products, and blogs, into a single ranking algorithm that seeks to capture user intent. She also announced that Universal Search is now global, with localized results for each of the content categories for 100 languages in 150 countries (which integrate cross-language search results).
Trystan Upstill, Google software engineer, also discussed “metro localization,” which will use geography to determine relevance based the user’s metro area. An example used was the ambiguous query “Zoo.” A Los Angeles based user will get a different result than a person in Seattle. (This can be done with IP targeting.) For other types of queries (e.g., restaurants) that are even more local, Google will prompt the user to enter a zip (in a field) and will store that information. That zip-level information will then influence subsequent Google search results. (It also gives Google zip-level ad targeting as well. Google can also get this information from user registration or through inference via Google Maps usage).
Google Health is now live. Records can be imported today. Search results (i.e., symptoms/conditions) are personalized based on personal health records data. All the services and content are personalized if the user provides or uploads her data. Google says that privacy is in the user’s control; the user can allow or revoke access to any third party. Google says it won’t share or sell personal data.
Google Health is also envisioned as a platform for third party developers, who may develop gadgets and applications for users.
There were a series of partner statements (e.g., Walgreens, Quest Diagnostics) expressing their views and enthusiasm for the value of the Google Health initiative.
Google also announced, in conjunction with the Cleveland Clinic, a “walk for good” gadget for iGoogle. If users achieve certain self-set targets, Google will allow qualifying users to vote for charitable causes to which Google will donate $100,000.
The event concluded with a Q&A session with the various speakers and presenters. Many of the questions surrounded Google’s motives (“How do you intend to make money?”) and some variation on the theme of privacy. Today, sharing is all or nothing but levels of “granularity” will be developed. Data security, according to Marissa Mayer, is at the highest level, “even more secure than our search servers.”
Google Health is currently available only in the US market but will expand to other markets in the future.