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Google rolls out semantic search capabilities

Google has given its Web search engine an injection of semantic technology, as the search leader pushes into what many consider the future of search on the Internet.

The new technology will allow Google's search engine to identify associations and concepts related to a query, improving the list of related search terms Google displays along with its results, the company announced in an official blog on Tuesday.

Ori Allon, technical lead of Google's Search Quality team, said in an interview Tuesday that the search improvement involves a dollop of semantic search technology mixed in with a big helping of lightning-fast, on-the-fly data mining.

“This is a new approach to query refinement because we're finding concepts and entities related to queries while you do a search, so everything is happening in real time and not [pre-assembled],” he said. “Because we're doing it in real time, we're able to target many more queries.”

The use of semantic search isn't more broad at this point because full conceptual analysis of documents would slow down the process of generating query refinements on the fly, Allon said. “If we want to get it all done in a matter of milliseconds, there's a lot of innovations we still have to do. A full semantic search would be very hard to do in this limited amount of time,” Allon said.

This is a big stumbling block that semantic search engines often run into: Scaling their technology to the speed and volume of a massively used service like Google's.

“We're working really hard at search quality to have a better understanding of the context of the query, of what is the query. The query isn't the sum of all the terms. The query has a meaning behind it. For simple queries like 'Britney Spears' and 'Barack Obama,' it's pretty easy for us to rank the pages. But when the query is 'What medication should I take after my eye surgery?', that's much harder. We need to understand the meaning,” said Allon, who came to Google in 2006 when the company hired him after his “Orion” Ph.D. project on search engine technology caught Google's attention.

Offering query-refinement suggestions is but the first application of the technology behind these enhancements, so users can expect other concrete improvements applied to things like search ranking, he said.

“The main Google infrastructure now is able to have a better sense of what is the context of the query and what are its related concepts, and how they relate to each other,” he said. “So this is the first of what we hope will be many other applications that we're working hard to incorporate into search quality.”

Google has often been criticized for using what is considered an aging approach to solving search queries based primarily on analyzing keywords and not on understanding their meaning.

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