Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Knocking down barriers to knowledge

As much as technology has advanced, there are still many barriers between you and the answers you’re looking for—whether you’re juggling a clunky mobile keyboard or waiting for a website to load. Today we held a media event in San Francisco where we talked about some of the latest things we’re doing to tackle these barriers on mobile, announced that we’re bringing our speech recognition and computer vision technology to the desktop, and took the next step for Google Instant—Instant Pages.

The thirst for knowledge doesn’t stop when you step away from your computer, it continues on your mobile device. In the past two years, mobile search traffic has grown five-fold. Mobile search today is growing at a comparable pace to Google in the early years.

Here you can see that mobile search traffic growth over the past three years (the red line) is comparable to overall Google search traffic growth over the same duration (the blue line) but earlier in our history.

One of the technologies driving this growth is speech recognition. With Voice Search, you don’t have to type on a tiny touchscreen. You can just speak your query and the answer is on the way. We’ve invested tremendous energy into improving the quality of our recognition technology—for example, today we teach our English Voice Search system using 230 billion words from real queries so that we can accurately recognize the phrases people are likely to say. As the quality has increased, so has usage: in the past year alone, Voice Search traffic has grown six-fold, and every single day people speak more than two years worth of voice to our system.

We first offered speech recognition on mobile search, but you should have that power no matter where you are. You should never have to stop and ask yourself, “Can I speak for this?”—it should be ubiquitous and intuitive. So we've added speech recognition into search on desktop for Chrome users. If you’re using Chrome, you’ll start to see a little microphone in every Google search box. Simply click the microphone, and you can speak your search. This can be particularly useful for hard-to-spell searches like [bolognese sauce] or complex searches like [translate to spanish where can I buy a hamburger]. Voice Search on desktop is rolling out now on google.com in English, but in the meantime you can check it out in our video:



Searching with speech recognition started first on mobile, and so did searching with computer vision. Google Goggles has enabled you to search by snapping a photo on your mobile phone since 2009, and today we’re introducing Search by Image on desktop. Next to the microphone on images.google.com, you’ll also see a little camera for the new Search by Image feature. If you click the camera, you can upload any picture or plug in an image URL from the web and ask Google to figure out what it is. Try it out when digging through old vacation photos and trying to identify landmarks—the search [mountain path] probably isn’t going to tell you where you were, but computer vision may just do the trick. Search by Image is rolling out now globally in 40 languages. We’re also releasing Chrome and Firefox extensions that enable you to search any image on the web by right-clicking.



Whether you type, speak or upload a photo, once you’ve indicated what you’re looking for the next step in your search is to sift through the results and pick one. To make this faster, last year we introduced Google Instant, which gives you search results while you type. We estimated Google Instant saves you between two and five seconds on typical searches. But once you’ve picked a result, you click, and then wait again for the page to load—for an average of about five seconds.

We want to help you save some of that time as well, so today we took the next step for Google Instant: Instant Pages. Instant Pages can get the top search result ready in the background while you’re choosing which link to click, saving you yet another two to five seconds on typical searches. Let’s say you’re searching for information about the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, so you search for [dc folklife festival]. As you scan the results deciding which one to choose, Google is already prerendering the top search result for you. That way when you click, the page loads instantly.



Instant Pages will prerender results when we’re confident you’re going to click them. The good news is that we’ve been working for years to develop our relevance technology, and we can fairly accurately predict when to prerender. To use Instant Pages, you’ll want to get our next beta release of Chrome, which includes prerendering (for the adventurous, you can try Instant Pages today with the developer version). It’s one more step towards an even faster web.

To learn more about today’s news, visit our new Inside Search website at www.google.com/insidesearch. There you’ll find a recording of the event (when it’s ready), answers to common questions and links to other blog posts about today’s news on the Mobile blog and Inside Search blog. The Inside Search website is our new one-stop shop for Google search tips, games, features and an under-the-hood look at our technology, so there’s plenty for you to explore.

We’re far from the dream of truly instantaneous access to knowledge, but we’re on our way to help you realize that dream.

Update 4:38p.m.: Watch the video and see a slideshow of today's event below.