Google Knowledge Graph: What questions should we really be asking?

I don’t get all the fanfare about Google’s recent “Knowledge Graph” launch — surely it’s just another step on Google’s path of evolving search?

First, we had Google’s attempt to show us more than just links with Universal Search in 2007 – that started incorporating aspects like images and news.

Secondarily, and totally coincidentally, we had Google Squared which was viewed as more of a computational engine that extracted data from webpages and presented them in search results in a spreadsheet — a Wolfram Alpha Lite, if you will. Squared was “retired” as a standalone site last year but Google obviously kept the technology.

If the writing wasn’t on the wall already, Google purchased Metaweb in 2010 which was seen as a clear indication that it wanted to apply a structure and thereby attain deeper understanding of the web. A key component of the Metaweb acquisition was Freebase, Metaweb’s free and open database of 12-million things including locations, companies, books and movies , which Google has now increased to over 500-million ‘objects’.

I say ‘objects’ at the moment, because if we think about how Google could possibly integrate Search plus your World — it could lead to an astounding amount of data correlation similar to what we see with Facebook’s Social Graph. Think of how much more digital evidence is going to be used in divorce courts. When asked how Search Plus your World is going to integrate with the Knowledge Graph, Jack Menzel, Product Management Director of Search at Google said that:

“Sometimes, that best information is the private information that only you have access to, like the Search Plus Your World information. And sometimes it’s Wikipedia, and sometimes it’s sports data, and sometimes it’s the weather. I don’t want to belittle the importance of social data, but knowledge overall does have a larger scope.”

What’s not being spoken about enough is Knowledge Graph’s home on Google’s search real estate — it’s taking up the side positions that are normally reserved for its Adwords ads. Amit Singhal, Google’s Search Quality Head, reckons that if there are ads along with a knowledge panel for any search, the ads will still display. That’s a given – Google’s not just going to cut out its main revenue stream just to better the search experience.

The real question is: how will the Knowledge Graph technology enhance the advertising experience on Google?

Surely the objects we buy have factual qualities to them, for example: The Hurley wetsuit with X,Y, and Z attributes costs A on Website G, but costs B, on Website H. If we look at the categories that Knowledge Graph covers, like Movies, Cities & Countries, Albums and Sports Teams the commercial potential is massive depending on how Google integrates Knowledge Graph into Adwords.

This could lead to a massive increase in comparison shopping and could be a major new source of growth within Adwords: keywords might have to be enhanced, connections between products could be created, “people who bought this, bought that” could be included…the possibilities are endless.

What’s inevitable with this Stumbleupon-esque functionality within Google is that users are going to be exploring the internet more and more, possibly spending more time on Google itself, but also engaging with content they ordinarily might not have.

The search marketing folk amongst us will easily recognise the research value in Knowledge Graph and will agree that it has become a great discovery resource along with other Google tools like Correlate, Trends, The Adwords Keyword Tool and, my favourite, Insights for Search.

As for the competition, Bing has a partnership with Wolfram Alpha and it owns Powerset technology that, somewhat similar to the Knowledge Graph, tries to deeply understand the meanings of words, rather than just really match patterns of letters, but it has done very little with either of them.

Regardless, Amit Singhal reckons that “Wolfram is far more computational” whereas Knowledge Graph is only looking to provide answers to popular factual queries, perhaps this opens the door to Wolfram being acquired in Google’s next trip down the search rabbit hole.



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