Mayer of Google Talks Future of Search

    September 11, 2008
    Chris Crum

When Google speaks, people listen. So when Marissa Mayer, VP, Search Products & User Experience at Google (who has been working on search at the company for over nine of its ten years) talks about where search is headed in the future, we should all take note.

Mayer lays out a very interesting vision for where search is headed, which years ago would have seemed a little on the far-fetched side, but now for the most part doesn’t feel so implausible. Basically, there are four main areas where search must and will improve, according to Mayer:

– Modes
– Media
– Personalization
– Language


When she talks about modes, she means the way we search. "Search needs to be more mobile," she says. "It should be available and easy to use in cell phones and in cars and on handheld, wearable devices that we don’t even have yet." She talks about a futuristic device that a person could wear, and would bring up relevant information based on speech recognition and the conversations happening at the time. It’s fascinating that Google is even thinking about something like this. I don’t know that the company is actually working on such a device at this point, but the fact that the VP of Search Products is talking about it makes it seem like a possibility, even if  we don’t see it until the distant future.


When Mayer talks about media, she talks about Universal Search, which the company launched over a year ago. It brings up a variety of different types of results when a user searches for something – sites, images, videos, news, books, and maps. "We’ve barely scratched the surface with universal search, but it’s an important first step to exploring the full range of what we can do with rich media," says Mayer. It’s not really clear how Google plans to improve upon this, but it is clear that they will be doing their best to do so.


Personalization often brings up privacy concerns, but it plays a huge factor in the future of search according to Mayer. She talks about how location is a big part of that, and Google definitely has a foot way in the door in that department as proven by the local results I see for many searches.

From the sounds of it, we can expect a lot more location-based search improvements in the coming years, which might start to feel creepy depending on how far they take it. Let’s not forget that they can see your front door:

Google's At Your Door

They also just launched a GeoEye satellite with the most sophisticated image capturing technology to date, but we’ll save that issue for when it gets really weird. The part of Mayer’s personalization talk that I am really interested in is the social aspect. She talks about a "friend-augmented search" concept that would theoretically improve relevancy to you personally, based on the people you know and whatnot.

She cites an example of a search for "LF". She has a friend that works for a store called LF in Los Angeles, but obviously a search as vague as "LF" will bring back quite a varied list of results. There is no telling how many things "LF" stands for. Mayer envisions a "friend-augmented" search that would recognize that her friend works at this "LF" store, and use it to deliver more personalized relevant results to her. It’s a very interesting concept indeed, and suddenly doesn’t seem so far-fetched considering how social media has taken off. I can see them incorporating Gmail into such a plan as well. The sheer amount of products that Google already offers, combined with the number that it is sure to acquire in the future could go a really long way in improving personalized search.


The last big improvement for the future that Mayer talks about is Language. She points out that there is a plethora of more relevant information out there for any given search, but users may never see it because it is in a different language. She wants Google to be able to retrieve results from foreign language sites from all over the world and translate them automatically to the user’s native language and integrate those results with the rest. This could get tricky considering the obstacles of online translation.

When you think of how much Google has accomplished up until its tenth birthday (through its own technology as well as partnerships and acquisitions), it really is breathtaking. I haven’t even scratched the surface of that here, but in search alone, it’s been quite astounding. Imagine what a technology giant with an absurd amount of money can do in another ten years, and in another 50. We’ll probably be able to look back on the ideas that Mayer talks about as primitive ones. Where will search go at that point?