May 16, 2012

4 Things To Expect From Google's Knowledge Graph In The Future

Google is getting serious about answers in search. We reported last week about a leaked screenshot of a "semantic search" box on the results page. Now we have an official name for it: The Knowledge Graph. More precisely, that's the name for Google's database of 500 million people, places and objects and 3.5 billion facts and relationships among them.

This news comes shortly after a lesser update to Google's Q&A OneBox, which also relies on the Knowledge Graph to bring you quick answers. This update more prominently displays the answers in a large font and no longer calls them a "best guess."

The difference between the Q&A OneBox and this new "knowledge panel," as Danny Sullivan called it, is that the panel doesn't just answer a question, it provides a small collection of facts that Google thinks you most likely want to know. Google decides what to put there based on people's search patterns. Google even said that more than a third of the time, the knowledge panel answers a question that the user would have likely searched for next.

The update will be rolling out gradually to U.S. English users starting today. But what can we expect from the Knowledge Graph tomorrow?

1. Social

This one is a no-brainer. Google's been sprinkling some "+" all over their product line. Some say it's to compete with Facebook, others say it's a natural evolution of search. But the one thing we do know about Facebook is that it lets you "Like" inanimate objects like Nike shoes and dead people like Mark Twain. With Google+, you can only +1 pages and articles about these things/people. Adding a +1 button to the knowledge panel will let a user endorse almost any specific person, place, or object without waiting for somebody to create a Mark Twain fanpage on Google+. Said button will also let people easily share fun facts about the objects of their affection with friends and family without having to post an embarrassing status update that reads, "I like Velcro. Did you know it was invented in 1948?"

Of course social for Google goes beyond the +1 button. At the heart of social is a conversation. An exchange of ideas on a shared topic of interest. And what better way to connect with others than to talk to people who are searching the same thing you are?

Google has added a conversation stream to Google News, letting people join ongoing public discussions about specific news events. It's not hard to imagine them putting a similar stream of Google+ conversations right below the knowledge panel.

2. Actions

As Danny Sullivan speculated, another direction the Knowledge Graph will move in is actions. That is, as you are educating yourself on the Taj Mahal, there would be a button that lets you book a tour. If you're checking out what year Bon Jovi released his latest album, you could go ahead and buy a ticket to his concert, or even buy the album itself. If you're reading about The Oscars, you could easily add them to your calendar or even ask your Android phone to send you a reminder. The possibilities are endless.

3. Computations

Google says their Knowledge Graph is meant to provide basic background information and inform future searches. In other words, they're not looking to perform complex calculations, and they are not trying to compete with Wolfram Alpha. But now that they have this huge assortment of facts and relationships, what would stop them?

Google can already tell me what year JFK was shot. What would stop them from answering "How old was Ronald Reagan when JFK was shot?" which is something Wolfram Alpha can do? They've got the data and the ability to understand the relationship between two or more pieces of data. It's just a matter of building the infrastructure. It may not be their priority today. But they've got all the pieces. They can decide to put them all together any time they want.

4. Fact Search

Google Search lets you narrow things down in many ways. You can search specifically for videos, forums, news articles, even recopies. But despite the roll out of the Knowledge Graph, there is no way to search specifically for facts.

You can type your search and hope Google decides that it's relevant to display the knowledge panel. But if they choose not to, there's nothing you can do. As Google builds out the Knowledge Graph, it's easy to imagine them introducing an extra filter on the left-hand side. It would be called "Facts" and it would sit right beside other filters like "Images," "News," and "Videos." Clicking on it will force Google to show you all the facts and other objects related to your search. Since right now Google only shows a handful of facts in the knowledge panel, and what facts it chooses differ from one search to the next, it would be fascinating to find out just how much Google knows about each single object.