Google Squared is Live. And Interesting. Which is Not the Same Thing as Useful.

By  |  Wednesday, June 3, 2009 at 6:21 pm

Google SquaredYou know how Google self-effacingly claims that some of its cleverest, most useful services are betas or lab experiments? Google Squared is not one of those readier-for-prime-time-than-Google-suggests items. The service–which was demoed a few weeks ago at a Google press event and which went live today at Google Labs–really is experimental. The way it returns search results as a spreadsheet-like grid is wildly inventive. But so far, the most impressive thing about it is that it sort of works, not that it’s terribly useful.

The best way to get a taste for what Squared does is to check out some results, which it calls Squares:

Here’s a search for “small cars

Here’s one for “superheroes

And here’s one for “U.S. states

All of them get some things right, figuring out logical columns of information for the search at hand (such as “transmission” for small cars and “first appearance” for superheroes) and filling in rows of information. But the randomness factor is high–it’s not clear why the first three cars that Squared fills in are the Scion xB, the Volkswagen Jetta, and the Subaru Impreza, nor why the fourth car is the 1999 Volkswagen Beetle. It gets confused easily–in the Superhero Square, it thinks that Alex Raymond created the Flash, when he really was responsible for Flash Gordon. Occasionally, it’s just plain dada–it appears to believe that U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is a U.S. state.

The examples above are mine, but Google’s suggested searches on the Squared home page provide results that are just as eccentric: A search for “digital cameras” lists the manufacturer of a Sony camera as “Carl Zeiss,” and there’s a “Color Support” column with entries such as “rhythm and blue,” “1 year warranty,” and “black.” All of which proves something we already knew: It’s really hard to grab facts from a place as loosey-goosey as the Web and turn it into structured, ordered data.

And while the service logically gives you some tools for editing the results–you can add edit cells and add rows and columns–it lacks others you’d almost certainly want if you were using Squares as the start of more extensive research, such as the ability to reorder or sort rows and columns. (I’d love to see Google Squared let you plunk a Square into Google Docs’ spreadsheet application, so you got access to all of its editing tools.)

A few folks have made noises about Squared being a Wolfram|Alpha killer, but that’s nuts: Alpha, while imperfect, is ready to do all sorts of useful things right now. Squared feels more like the initial proof of concept for something that may take years to get right.

None of this matters much if Squared is in fact a very rough draft of an idea that Google has a lot of faith in. A Squared that pretty much figured out the right columns and rows for all kinds of searches, and filled them in with correct info in the right order, could be a tremendous research tool. Which is why I hope Google sticks with this idea. I’m guessing we’ll be able to tell within a few months whether the company sees it as an idiosyncratic party trick or something that might evolve into the next Google News or Google Image Search…


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3 Comments For This Post

  1. Noodle Squares Says:

    Putting everything together into one table is tremendously powerful but (for now) it requires some human intelligence to guide it. Noodle Squares does this. Compare:

    Search engines


    [disclaimer: associated with noodlesquares]

  2. NanoGeek Says:

    The description on Texas says, “The United States of Texas”.
    Yea, it needs a lot of work.

  3. Nair Satheesh Says:

    Google Squared appears to be similar to my patent application:

    Frankly, I am getting a Déjà vu effect while going through the “Google Squared” application because it appears to be very similar in function to my United States patent application which was filed on April 12, 2007 and as publicly disclosed by the United States Patent and Trademark Office on October 16, 2008, when the patent application was published.

    My patent application is titled as “Method And System For Research Using Computer Based Simultaneous Comparison And Contrasting Of A Multiplicity Of Subjects Having Specific Attributes Within Specific Contexts” bearing Document Number “20080256023” and Inventor name “Nair Satheesh” which may be viewed at upon Patent Applications: Quick Search.

    Google Squared appears to be using at least some if not many of the same methods and systems as set forth by me more than two years ago in my patent application. In fact there are many more methods and systems disclosed in my patent application which I believe will help resolve certain inaccuracies found in current Google Squared application.

    I have issued legal notices to Google through my Patent Attorney in the US but Google has not responded yet to any of my notices.

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