If you’ve done a Google search since May 16 (who hasn’t?), then you might have seen some new content with your search results. What is that about? Well, Google has launched a feature called Knowledge Graph to provide quick, bite-size pieces of content about selected topics. Google has culled tidbits from public sources, like Wikipedia, and compiled these facts to provide summaries, right on a results page. So, you might not have to click beyond search results to find fast answers to your basic questions…or will you?
If you do a quick search for a popular person, place or thing, just see what comes up. (Keep in mind that not every search will reveal Knowledge Graph results….only search results for popular or well-known items.) I searched for one of the most loved actors of all time—Humphrey Bogart. Here are the results:
Take a look at right side of the results page. Depending on your query, you might see an image, a very brief summary, basic stats, and related topics. In addition to the basics about the actor, I also learned that Bogey was born on the last Christmas of the 19th Century. Who knew? Plus, I could dig further by clicking on links to some of his most popular titles or costars.
Most of us want quick, easy delivery of content with less clicking, and that’s where Knowledge Graph comes in. Searching can require much cognitive work. This is especially true if you are searching for content on an unfamiliar topic or are sorting through results from unfamiliar sources. Let’s see how Google intends for Knowledge Graph to improve search. Amit Singhal, SVP of Engineering at Google, lists these three enhancements:
Google’s Knowledge Graph reminds me of the computer Watson, built by IBM to answer questions asked in regular language. (If you are a Jeopardy fan, maybe you saw the computer compete on the show.) Put simply, Watson analyzes data and makes decisions like a person. When Watson is asked a question, it breaks the question down into keywords and phrases and then searches within its own stored knowledge for the answer. Millions of bits of data culled from encyclopedias, databases, articles and so on live in Watson’s “brain.” The computer is able to analyze all the corresponding data and make decisions about their relevance to the question, just like we would. In the end, Watson usually comes up with the correct answer.
Like Watson, Knowledge Graph looks for answers and builds meaning much like human thought processes. Google’s Singhal explains that Knowledge Graph “understands real-world entities and their relationships to one another: things, not strings.” It creates relationships between words and facts in the same way people understand and build knowledge. These connections make search simpler and allow us to fill in between the lines and add shades of meaning to results.
Knowledge Graph will completely change how people search and interact with results, in both good and potentially bad ways. How this will affect our content and search strategies remains to be seen, but here are some of the pros and cons.
Knowledge Graph will completely change how people search and interact with results. It’s already hard enough for users to find and click on our links. With Knowledge Graph, clicking on links will become less necessary. The simple summaries of content may keep users from going to our sites for those same facts.
Also, Google has more control over the content we see. While it does bubble up the most popular info and may induce some clicks to related content, this new search feature makes Google prominent as a source of content, overshadowing other sources. Google has already been in a Senate antitrust hearing for using their search prominence to promote their own businesses and interests over competitors.
Knowledge Graph makes it easier for the web to spin off countless paths of discovery between nodes of content. Like the game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, you can link quickly from one related topic to the next and grow your knowledge organically and, most importantly, quickly. Look up an author and discover new titles. Look up a band and see tour dates. Look up a city and see points of interest.
Also, consider how this has an impact on mobile search. On the go, you want just the highlights and most pertinent content, with the fewest clicks. Google has launched Knowledge Graph views on smartphones and tablets so you can do just that. The resulting content may appear in a truncated form based on your screen size, but it does appear. You then can navigate to a detail page with the full Knowledge Graph content.
The Knowledge Graph feature also shows alternate links for vague search terms on tablets and smartphones. In the following example, I searched for St. Andrews, which could be many things. In the search results, I can choose from a New York restaurant, the university or the city.
Originally published on the now-archived Content Science blog in May 2012.
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