When Features Collide


Google's uses an annual press event it calls Searchology to trot out its new search features and other new offerings. Two new features caught my eye. Individually, they are useful and fascinating. In combination, they are potentially disruptive.

The first new offering, scheduled to go live imminently, is called Google Squared. It's an attempt to present search results to the user in spreadsheet format. You'll type in a standard free text query, for example, "baseball teams" and Google will return a spreadsheet where the rows consist of each team in baseball, and the columns are determined dynamically, such as location, league affiliation, etc. In short, Google is attempting to create structured data from unstructured web page content. Does it work? As you might suspect, it's far from perfect, but at the same time, it's a remarkable start.

Another new feature announced by Google is called "rich snippets" which involves putting more structured data in search results by drawing on web page metadata (in particular, pay attention to Google's support of a microformat called hCard). With rich snippets, which is being rolled out slowly, Google can now display star ratings for restaurants right in its search results, standardized address information for businesses, and disambiguated person data (initially courtesy of Linked-In) that will show company affiliation and job title right in the standard search results screen.

Okay, here's the disruptive angle to this. Fast forward a few years and it sure sounds that with more structured business and individual contact information available through Google, along with tools like Google Squared that allow output in spreadsheet format, it's entirely possible that users will routinely be able to easily create and export business mailing lists, organizational charts and much more. The more microformat data Google is able to access, the more high quality, structured output Google will be able to deliver to users and in a popular data interchange format to boot. Given Google's preferred price point for information (zero), there's a very real possibility of some disruptive change on the horizon.

Recommended response? Remember that basic contact information had been becoming commoditized for a number of years now. These Google offerings will only accelerate an existing trend. The future for data publishers is to continue to relentlessly push up the value chain delivering deeper, smarter information to customers in ways that integrate into their workflows and business processes.
2009 Model of Excellence Award Nominee: Boardroom Insiders

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