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Google updates search engine

Elise Ackerman
San Jose Mercury News (MCT)

Google has unveiled several updates to its search engine that take advantage of the increasing sophistication of the World Wide Web.

Marissa Mayer, vice president of search products, told reporters attending the annual "Searchology" event at the company's Mountain View, Calif., headquarters that the company's goal was to give people a way to "slice and dice" their search results so they are more useful.

The first enhancement users will notice is a small blue "show options" link in the light blue bar above the first page of their search results. By clicking on the link, people can choose to separately view results that are videos, reviews or forums (online discussion boards). Or they can sort the results by time, choosing to review results that were published only during the past 24 hours, the past week or the past year.

Options include a lighthearted "Wonder Wheel," which is a visual representation of suggestions for refining a search arranged like spokes of a wheel.

The tools "offer whole new ways of searching that haven't been previously available," Mayer said.

But in a second set of refinements that Google called "rich snippets," Google representatives acknowledged they were paying catch-up to Yahoo. The snippets integrate information that Google has scraped from the Web, such as Yelp ratings or LinkedIn listings, into search results, so that a search for "Drooling Dog BBQ" in Colfax brings up the restaurant's Yelp ranking and review.

In comparison, Yahoo includes not only the restaurant's rating but its address, phone number and category, thanks to an enhancement it rolled out in February 2008 that Yahoo calls Search Monkey.

The new features from both companies stem from an extension of the Web's markup language called RDFa as well as what are known as open data "microformats." These standards increase the intelligence of the Web by providing ways for webmasters to annotate Web pages in order to provide more information to search engines. For example, the formats let webmasters include invisible code that says something is a review and can be included alongside other reviews.

Rohit Khare, a volunteer at Microformats.org, said Google's adoption of the formats, first released in 2003, will "help people connect the dots between Web sites."

Google's third major announcement was a data-scraping experiment called Google Squared that will be available on Google Labs later this month. Google Squared will present information gathered by its Web crawler in square tables, rather than in a list of search results, so that people can quickly compare information on products or research topics like different breeds of dogs.

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