Google Has a Sneaky Semantic Surprise for Siri

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You knew it had to be coming. When Apple (NAS: AAPL) rolled out Siri, its personal-assistant app with voice-recognition and semantic analysis, there were many who called it a broadside against Google's (NAS: GOOG) dominance of the world's information resources. Would Big G roll over? Of course not! But until recently, we had little indication of just what shape the return volley would take.

Now, thanks to a Wall Street Journal interview with Google search exec Amit Singhal, we can see that Google's taken the logical next step toward organizing its information the way humans do. That's the best step toward ensuring its stranglehold on search stays tight for a long time.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
Motley Fool Rule Breakers analysts Tim Beyers and Karl Thiel recently gave us an overview of what the future of search might look like. In their own words, "while data is everywhere, meaning increasingly comes from software." Anyone who's used a Google search (which, let's face it, is pretty much everyone) can attest to the firehose of links that result from nearly every string. It can be tough to find what you really want. When you look for the best prices on Mediterranean cruises, you don't want to sift through three pages of historical analysis of the Roman Empire.

Enter semantic search. There are very limited examples of semantic results on Google now, such as when converting one measurement to another or offering common information (such as the names of world leaders), but the proposed upgrade will work with a huge database of "entities," allowing the results to see that you're looking for the name of, say, The Motley Fool's CEO and return a line at the top telling you that our CEO's name is Tom Gardner. If you ask the search box when The Motley Fool was founded, it should tell you right away that the date was 1993. More interested in that Mediterranean cruise? Instead of a random list of links, you might see a list of ships, sailing dates, and prices.

Semantic shifts
Shifting to semantic-driven searches could be as big a transformation as the one that unseated Yahoo! (NAS: YHOO) and put Google on top of the search heap. Despite the differences between Google's now-dominant model and the older Yahoo! model -- which had a much more hands-on ranking system -- we've been getting search results that have looked similar since the earliest days of the Internet. Yahoo!'s new search buddy Microsoft (NAS: MSFT) isn't much different, either.

That's why, despite being largely untested, Siri made such a splash when it was announced for the iPhone 4S. Finally, search that answers you like a human being! Except it didn't. Siri still has many limitations, not least of which is that Apple had exactly zero experience at developing a search engine. The meaning, as Tim and Karl put it, is often supplied by Wolfram Alpha. Heck, Microsoft's sunk billions into Bing, and it's only managed to get to its current market share thanks to a partnership with Yahoo!

We're drowning in data, but we still need to find meaning in it. Out of all the major tech players, none has the breadth and depth of expertise with data, and the way we use it, that Google has. The three pillars of Google's future strategy now appear to hinge on semantic search, mobile dominance, and social connectivity. Individually, the three pillars could be toppled. Together, they could withstand any assault. It just remains to be seen whether Google can make everything work together.

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At the time this article was published Fool contributorAlex Planesholds no financial position in any company mentioned here. Add him onGoogle+or follow him on Twitter,@TMFBiggles, for more news and insights. The Motley Fool owns shares of Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Yahoo!Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of Google, Microsoft, Apple, and Yahoo! and creating bull call spread positions in Microsoft and Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.

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