Marissa Mayer on the future of Google

"We think it's really important to move beyond just keywords and allow people to ask questions, and maybe access things more easily from their mobile phone," she says. "We're also looking at how to weave new media into it and how we can bring books, videos and news right into the search experience. And then there are various pieces of personalisation."

To celebrate Google's 10th birthday Mayer laid down her thoughts on the future of search in a recent blog post. She believes that, while search is 90 per cent solved, the last 10 per cent will take decades to complete.

She compares search to biology and physics in the 1500s or 1600s and claims the famous 10 blue links of the Google search page are just the beginning. Universal search, which adds images, videos, news, books and maps to the search results, is a first step in the right direction.

Mayer reveals that the team has been evolving the interface design and user experience of the rich media-heavy search results since the launch in May 2007 and that we'll see the fruits of this experimentation in the coming months.

Mayer also believes that personalisation – "What can we understand about the user and how can we tailor the results to them?" – will be an important part of search. Search engines will be better because they'll understand more about the user.

"Maybe the search engine of the future will know where you're located," Mayer suggests. "Maybe they'll know what you know already, or what you learned earlier today. Or maybe they'll fully understand your preferences because you've chosen to share that information with us. We aren't sure which personal signals will be most valuable, but we're investing in research and experimentation on personalised search now because we think this will be very important later."

The social aspect plays a significant part, too. Mayer explains: "We really need to harness people's friends better to understand which news to direct them to, which local events to direct them to… these are all things that we think are intriguing."

Mayer describes the concept of the ideal search engine as "Your best friend with instant access to all the world's facts and a photographic memory you've seen and know." To some that might seem scary: however, she claims a user's privacy is respected by a good user experience that really embodies transparency and control. In Google's personalised search, for example, you can already see your web history and remove items if you wish.

Google will also continue to focus on cloud computing, the idea that you can store some of your information on the web. "It's actually better replicated and better cared for than if you have just a single copy of that data on your laptop," she enthuses.

"That's really exciting. It would be very good for consumers to actually start using some of the server farms that many of the big internet companies have been building to store their data more reliably. It allows you to free yourself up. You're not married to a computer, you can access your data from anywhere. How you use the cloud is completely dependent on you. You can decide to put all of your data in the cloud or you can decide to put very little of your data in the cloud – it's your choice."

For example, you might want to store your own medical records at Google Health and access them from anywhere there's internet access. Mayer is nearing her own 10th anniversary at Google but for the time being has no intention of leaving. "I'm a geek and Google is a great place for geeks," she says. "I really love my job because I get to work on new problems and have new challenges each day. I'm currently working on our Geo products, Google Book Search and Google Health. They're all things I'm excited to be part of."


First published in .net Magazine, Issue 184

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