Today, Google is rolling out some new features that may surprise and delight you. Or totally creep you out. We’ll see.
Basically, the company’s web search will be able to access your Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google+. With the information it pulls in, Google web search will now be able to answer queries like “When does my flight leave?” or “Is my package here yet?”
The new search results will be directly relevant to your own activities and will include flight info, reservations for hotels and restaurants, shipping and other status data on purchases you’ve made, events and plans from your personal calendar, and pictures you’ve uploaded to Google+.
The new feature is available on mobile, tablets, desktop, Android, iOS — anywhere Google web search results are found.
We see the new hotness (or creep-ness) as a continuation of what Google was doing waaaay back in 2012. Last year, the company started using social data and structured data to make search results more personal and much faster.
First, Google started pulling Google+ info into search. This showed you Google+ posts and shares along with other results. Best of all, you could toggle the feature on and off directly from the search results page.
Next, the company showed us Knowledge Graph, a feature we really like and quickly got used to. Knowledge Graph took a lot of well-formatted data from sites like Wikipedia or LinkedIn and used it to dish out answers to questions. For example, the query “How deep is the Grand Canyon?” would yield an answer in feet or meters, not just links. And the query “Duchess Catherine” would show a headshot and mini bio, not just a list of Kate-related websites.
After that, and more closely related to today’s news, Google started showing Gmail results in search in a limited pilot. This showed signed-up users their documents, events, and emails in a little box next to web search results.
And of course, there’s Google Now, which launched last year as a Google-powered personal assistant to show weather, travel information, etc.
Here’s what today’s search changes look like on a few mobile devices:
The rollout with start for English-speaking users in the United States and will begin with results covering logistics and travel. Wider rollout will happen based on how quickly Google can get the language quality on other languages up to par.
Results for queries like “What is Dan’s phone number?” are likely going to be coming next, since Google owns a ton of your personal contacts’ information via Android and Gmail.
Also, the feature should soon be able to process data from multiple accounts, a bit of programming trickery that hasn’t been built into the first iteration.
A note on privacy: Google tells us that with the new features, you’ll only get access to information that already lives in your personal Google account and only when you’re signed into that account. This information is only visible to you, and you can turn it off with a toggle on the search results page or by going to the “Private results” section of your search settings. Results are encrypted and will only show up when Google is certain they’ll be relevant — and our sources at Google say the company is being extremely conservative on its definition of “relevant” for these purposes.
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