Google is changing the way it looks at the Internet, as the company tries to keep its search engine relevant at a time when Web users want up-to-the-second search results.
The world's most popular search engine announced on Thursday it will alter some of the algorithms it uses to determine what search results it shows to its users. In a move that affects roughly 35 per cent of all Google searches, the company will now put more emphasis on the most recently-created results – news articles and social media posts that can be just a few minutes old.
The new version of Google's algorithm will attempt to figure out whether the user's search query is suited to the most recent results, such as a search for "Occupy Wall Street," or not, such as a search for a cookie recipe.
"Given the incredibly fast pace at which information moves in today's world, the most recent information can be from the last week, day or even minute, and depending on the search terms, the algorithm needs to be able to figure out if a result from a week ago about a TV show is recent, or if a result from a week ago about breaking news is too old," said Amit Singhal, a software engineer who heads up Google's search-ranking team.
For certain recurring events, such as a company's quarterly earnings or a presidential election, the search engine will now assume the user is looking for the most recent iteration.
The new algorithm changes are based on a major search engine overhaul Google performed in the summer of 2010. Called Caffeine, the overhaul rearranged the company's search algorithms to put far more emphasis on scouring the Web faster for more recently-created results, and focusing more on social media.
By a wide margin, Google is still the world's most popular search engine, and even big-name competitors such as Microsoft's Bing have not come close to overthrowing the website. However in recent years, social media have largely changed the definition of a Web search. For many users, asking their friends on Facebook or Twitter to recommend a Mexican restaurant in Vancouver is much more useful than performing a blanket search for the topic on Google.
In an attempt to tap in to the social media sphere, Google previously signed a deal to incorporate Twitter results into its main search. However that contract ended this summer, and Google did not renew it – a move that appears to have been prompted in part by the launch of Google's own competing social media service, Google+. The company will likely try to leverage Google+ content as it once again tries to offer real-time social media results on its core search engine.
While this week's algorithm changes still don't incorporate Twitter content, they do ensure that, for about a third of all Google search results, the most recent results will show up near the top of the page. Whether that alone is enough to convince users to choose Google over Twitter and Facebook for real-time results remains to be seen.