MENLO PARK, Calif. - Google has quietly retooled the closely guarded formula running its Internet search engine to give better answers to the increasingly complex questions posed by Web surfers.
The overhaul came as part of an update called "Hummingbird" that Google Inc. has gradually rolled out in the past month without disclosing the modifications.
The changes could have a major impact on traffic to websites. Hummingbird represents the most dramatic alteration to Google's search engine since it revised the way it indexes websites three years ago as part of a redesign called "Caffeine," according to Amit Singhal, a senior vice-president for the company. He estimates that the redesign will affect the analysis of about 90 per cent of the search requests that Google gets.
Any reshuffling of Google's search rankings can have sweeping ramifications because they steer so much of the Internet's traffic. Google fields about two of out every three search requests in the U.S. and handles an even larger volume in some parts of Europe. The changes could also drive up the price of Google ads tied to search requests if websites whose rankings are demoted under the new system feel they have to buy the marketing messages to attract traffic.
The search ads and other commercial pitches related to Web content account for most of Google's revenue, which is expected to approach $60 billion this year.
Google disclosed the existence of the new search formula Thursday at an event held in the Menlo Park, California, garage where CEO Larry Page and fellow co-founder Sergey Brin started the company 15 years ago.
Google celebrates its birthday on Sept. 27 each year, even though the company was incorporated a few weeks earlier. The company is now based in Mountain View, California, at a sprawling complex located about seven miles from the 1,900-square-foot home where Page and Brin paid $1,700 per month to rent the garage and a bedroom. The co-founders' landlord was Susan Wojcicki, who is now a top Google executive and Brin's sister-in-law.
Wojcicki sold the home to Google in 2006 and it is now maintained as a monument to the company's humble beginnings.
Google's renovations to its search engine haven't triggered widespread complaints from other websites yet, suggesting that the revisions haven't resulted in a radical reshuffling in how websites rank in the recommendations. The Caffeine update spurred a loud outcry because it explicitly sought to weed out websites that tried to trick Google's search engine into believing their content was related to common search requests. After Caffeine kicked in, hundreds of websites that consistently won a coveted spot near the top of Google's search results had been relegated to the back pages or exiled completely.
Hummingbird is primarily aimed at giving Google's search engine a better grasp at understanding concepts instead of mere words, Singhal said.
The change needed to be done, Singhal said, because people have become so reliant on Google that they now routinely enter lengthy questions into the search box instead of just a few words related to specific topics.
With the advent of smartphones and Google's voice-recognition technology, people also are increasingly submitting search requests in sequences of spoken sentences that resemble an ongoing conversation. That trend also factored into Google's decision to hatch Hummingbird.
Just as Page and Brin set out to do when they started Google in a garage, "we want to keep getting better at helping you make the most of your life," Singhal said.
Besides Hummingbird, Google also announced a few other updates to existing search features aimed at providing information more concisely so people won't need to navigate to another website. These changes are part of Google's effort to adapt to the smaller screens of smartphones that aren't well suited for hopscotching across the Internet.
The additions primarily affect Google's "Knowledge Graph," an encyclopedia-like box that increasingly appears at the top or alongside the search results, and Google Now, a virtual assistant that tailors key information suited to each user's habits, interest and location.
Besides providing informational snapshots of famous people and landmarks, the Knowledge Graph is now capable of comparing the attributes of two different things, such as olive oil and coconut oil. It will also be possible to ask the Knowledge Graph to sort through certain types of information, such as the creative evolution of various artists.
An upcoming update to Google's search application for devices running Apple's mobile operating system will ensure notifications about personal appointments and errand reminders are also delivered on a smartphones or tablets running on Google's competing Android software. Google Now also will start flagging new developments and information about famous people that have previously piqued a user's interest.
How do I unchain emails?
<em>Currently an email continues on and on, as the recipient/others reply to it, but I can't always see that there is a new addition, as it doesn't come up as a new email -- it remains in the original location by date. Do you understand my question? I can't think how to make it clearer. -- Deborah</em> I hear you loud and clear, Deb. One of the biggest adjustments for people switching over to Gmail is the automatic chaining of emails in the inbox -- that is, replies to a certain email thread are nested under the original email, rather than presented as separate, independent emails. You'll probably get used to it after a while, but if you absolutely loathe the chained look, there's a solution: Recently, Gmail relented and pushed out an option that allows you to "unchain" those emails. Go into your Gmail Settings (click the gear icon in the top right and then "Mail Settings") and find the option called Conversation View. Switch Conversation View to the off position to unchain your emails for good. (Also, remember to scroll down and Save Changes, Deborah, otherwise your new view will not go into effect.)
How can you sort emails by sender or subject?
Many of you wrote in to ask how you can sort by email sender or subject alphabetically -- that ain't gonna happen on Gmail, it just ain't. Gmail is an email service based on searching emails, not sorting them. The search bar at the top of your inbox is your primary means of locating those past emails, and Gmail doesn't allow you to alphabetize your columns from there. The best you can do to organize based on sender or subject is to learn your Gmail search operators. Search operators are, per Google, "words or symbols that perform special actions in Gmail search." They look like this: "from:[sender]," "to:[recipient]," "subject:[subject]," etc. So, if you want to find all of your emails from, say, Huffington Post Senior Tech Editor Bianca Bosker, you could type in the search bar "from:email@example.com" to bring up all of her past emails. Or if you want to find all the emails you've ever sent to Bianca Bosker, you could type "to:firstname.lastname@example.org" in the Gmail search bar. You can also combine search terms: <em>to:email@example.com subject:"office hot tub" </em> <a href="http://support.google.com/mail/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=7190" target="_hplink">Click here for the official list of Gmail search operators</a>. <strong>NOTE</strong>: Someone should write a <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ODGA7ssL-6g" target="_hplink">catchy mnemonic song</a> to help us remember these. Another option: If you download an email client like Mozilla Thunderbird or Microsoft Outlook and sync up your Gmail account, you will be able to alphabetize your inbox however you'd like. From Gmail.com, however, you are out of luck, as far as we know. Speaking of things that Gmail notably can't do...
How can you search for larger emails in Gmail?
Nope, you can't sort by email size in Gmail, either. Again, Outlook and Thunderbird are quick, free external programs that can sort your Gmail by size, but if you don't want to download anything, here are the two best web-based options for searching for large emails in Gmail that I know of: 1. Use the search operator "has:attachment" to locate larger emails. For "has:attachment", Gmail will bring up emails with files attached to them, starting with the most recent. If you want to bring up only older emails with attachments, consider something like "has:attachment before:2010/06/01." This will bring up emails with attachments sent before June 1, 2010, and then you can choose which ones you no longer need. (That Kris Kross album your friend ironically sent you is really just taking up precious Gmail space at this point). 2. Use FindBigMail.com. When you are logged into Gmail, simply visit FindBigMail.com and enter in your email address. After granting the site permission, FindBigMail scans your entire Gmail archive and locates your large emails for you. (You do the deleting afterwards.) The service is free and does not require or store any of your private information. <a href="https://www.findbigmail.com/faq" target="_hplink">For an FAQ, read here</a>. Sorry I couldn't be of more help, <strong>Salim</strong>. Let me know if you find a better way.
How do I log into my Gmail on my iPad?
Well, you can launch the iPad's Safari browser and navigate to Gmail.com, of course, but we prefer the Mail app -- as should you, <strong>Michael in San Diego</strong>. Here are your steps: 1. Click on the Settings app. 2. Touch Mail, Contacts, Calendars on the left sidebar. 3. Under Accounts, touch "Add Account..." 4. Touch Gmail. 5. Enter your name, email address, password, and what you want to call your account (Home Gmail, Work Gmail, Party Gmail, etc.). 6. Choose whether you want to sync your mail, calendars, or notes from that account. 7. Boom, you're done. Check out your new email accounts in the Mail app from the homescreen.
How do you select and then delete all of your spam?
Sure, we all love being told the size of our genitals could be improved, but sometimes the spam we receive becomes too burdensome and we need to mass delete. So writes <strong>Diane in Maryland</strong>, and we agree. In your spam folder, click the center of the "Select" box (it's the box within a box right above the banner ad at the top of your mailbox) to select all. Then click "Delete Forever" to -- well, to delete that Spam forever. (WARNING: Those deals on real estate seminars aren't coming back.)
How free is the free Gmail phone call?
I'd like to ask for clarification on a statement you made regarding "Call Phone." You said: "Again, it's not free for the recipient." But isn't it free for them if they are on a land-line? -- <strong>Gregg from San Diego</strong> My report of the death of landlines was greatly exaggerated, as Gregg pointed out. If you call a cell phone from Gmail, it is free for you but counts against the recipient's cell phone minutes; if you're calling an American or Canadian landline, it is indeed free for everyone (or, rather, there are no additional charges for anyone). <a href="http://support.google.com/chat/?hl=en&topic=30052" target="_hplink">Here's the full skinny on Gmail calling</a>. My apologies to landlines for the premature death pronouncement. You've never looked better.
How do you send mail to people without showing their email addresses?
Peg writes in wanting know how she can send an email to multiple recipients without those recipients being able to see who the others are. Perhaps Peg is planning on throwing a party and doesn't want to tip off the guest list; perhaps she is a manager and wants to yell at certain employees for not turning in their end of year reviews in a timely manner. In any case what Peg and all passive-aggressive bosses are looking for is the BCC field. BCC stands for "blind carbon copy." Any email addresses you type in the BCC field will not be visible to any of the recipients. For <a href="http://support.google.com/mail/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=57143" target="_hplink">a full explanation of how BCC works</a>, we turn once again to Gmail's help desk.