Michael’s speech was titled “The Future of Local Search – Google’s Strategic Vision”. Michael started off by saying that Google is not the best at local search and went on to show how concierges are the best and how Google strives to be a local searcher’s concierge. This is a great analogy and Michael paralleled the two very nicely. A concierge (and Google) must be discreet (deal with privacy properly), understanding of your needs (offer alternative searches), multi-lingual, and transactional. Google and concierges must be knowledgeable of the hyper-local (the hotel and immediate areas), the local (the entire city), the country, and be able to offer help from their network of colleagues (Google Universal search).
Michael went on to talk about emerging local data. Traditionally, Yellow Page listings, public resources, city and restaurant guides and map related data were all that we had for local data online. Now, newer forms of local data are emerging such as user reviews and photos, local weather forecasts (at a neighborhood level), local traffic status updates and other new technologies.
Google wants to capitalize on all forms of local data and Google Geo’s mission is “to geographically organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” This may look very similar to Google main mission but with the addition of ‘geographically’. Michael went on to show how Google plans to do this and mentions gave a few examples. One way this was done recently was when Google Earth mapped out the Darfur atrocities. Google Earth users are able to see the location of each village that was burned to the ground and users can even read the stories from survivors and see the actual location of the events that are described via words. This gives users an ability to relate more to the atrocities and provides a deeper understanding of the events as they occurred across the region. Google has done something similar with its work with NASA on mapping the moon and marking the location of every moon landing and image taken on the moon.
Michael then went on to again reiterate that Google is not the local expert but that ‘users are THE local experts’. For example, in India, most streets are not marked with street signs so landmarks are used as points of reference. Google had to use crowdsourcing to create accurate maps for its users in India. Google developed the processes and tools to enable people living in India to mark locations and input other landmark data. With the amount of information out there – users will help drive the growth of local search data.
You can tell by Michael’s enthusiasm that Google is going to be doing many new and great things using mobile and local search in the near future. Stay tuned for more coverage of the individual sessions from the conference.