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Google just released a new search tool to the public called Google Squared, which pulls information about a specific topic from around the web into a spreadsheet. First announced at Google’s Searchology event in May, Squared could be useful for different kinds of research — if you want to buy a new dog, it can help you compare breeds, or if you’re writing a school paper about the solar system, Squared can create a chart of all the planets and their attributes. Currently, Squared is a Labs product, meaning that it’s still in testing. I found it both promising and hilariously unreliable.

Other writers have already complained about the weirdness of some results. My favorite search so far is for “newspapers.” As expected, given the broadness of the search, Squared returned a rather random collection of publications. More inexplicable, however, were the fields of information it provided: In addition to offering each paper’s image and description, Squared also provided their “Justice,” “Pakistan,” and “Games.” (It turns out that The Monitor’s “game” is Bionic Commando, and The Nation’s “justice” is Alien vs. Predator. Will someone please tell me what that means?)

On the other hand, Squared tends to do better for more specific searches. For example, it returned a somewhat accurate list of the novels of science fiction writer Philip K. Dick (though it mixed movies in with the books and seemed to think that the novels had “directors,” not “authors”). Or to return to my earlier example, the spreadsheet of San Francisco newspapers was much more accurate than the more general query for “newspaper”.

You can add rows and columns to the spreadsheet as desired. For example, the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Francisco Bay Guardian, which are the two local newspapers I actually read, weren’t on the list, but I can add them as rows, and then save the results. Also, Google attributes each fact to another source on the web, so users can determine their reliability.

For now, Squared seems strong on concept, strong on user interface, and weak on search results. Um . . . two out of three isn’t bad, right?

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