Doing the Knowledge – Google Style
Over the past few years we’ve seen a lot of changes from Google which are about streamlining access to information. They have things like the “one box” which provides a direct answer to users for specific questions – such as “height of Mount Everest” or “Weather in London”:
The point of these is to give users information as quickly as possible. There was some outcry from webmasters when these were first brought in. People said that Google were taking traffic away from sites that relied on visits to sell their advertising around, however ultimately, Google providing this information quickly is a better user experience, and is also more trustworthy.
Within SEO there’s always a lot of criticism about why Wikipedia ranks well for such a wide variety of keywords to the point where it excludes better quality or more reliable information, however for a large number of users, Wikipedia is the best result for many queries.
The challenge previously for Google was being able to “understand” the meaning of complex information when it lacked semantic structure, however they’ve been doing a lot of work (Google Squared) and making acquisitions (Metaweb), as well as benefiting from technology like Freebase that make the relationships between individual pieces of data much more structured.
When announcing this at SMX, Amit Singhal stated that this was a baby step along the way to a better (more human) Google, and I’m inclined to believe him. If anything, the idea of ten blue links on a page is an artificial convention, and there is no reason aside from that convention why we need to consume information in this way all the time.
For transactional queries, yes, a list of options is arguably the best way to present the most relevant sites, but for something more nuanced, or an informational query, having the various results collated into something that is structured logically and readably is much more intuitive.
There’s no doubt that this has been tried before – Cuil experimented with a results interface that combined content into a Wikipedia style article before they folded, however they lacked the resource and index size that Google have.
The challenge for Google will be to identify a wider source of information. Arguably they’ll be incorporating some degree of best answer matching from their wider index to ensure that there is a broad basis for the facts, but unless Google are able to include more (trustworthy) sites and provide traffic to them via Knowledge Graph, then a key source of revenue for those types of sites will be removed. In many cases, the most accurate, deep, and well researched information can be found on enthusiast websites as original research which is then linked to from Wikipedia. Without at least some source of revenue being made available to those publishers, they may lose the incentive they have to publish, and weaken the quality of information that is available online.
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