Google Tries to Get Smarter, More Useful

Search engines are pretty good at finding Web pages closely related to exact terms users type in. They’ve had less success finding results that are conceptually related to what a user is looking for. For instance, a search for “abstract expressionism” may have missed certain results for the related artistic movement “surrealism.”

Google (GOOG) took a step toward cracking that nut Tuesday, releasing an upgrade to its technology that better understands associations and concepts related to search. The feature is based on technology called Orion that was developed by Ori Allon while he was a Ph.D. student in Australia. Google acquired it in 2006.

Mr. Allon, who now works at Google, said in an interview that the technology–-which seeks to understand the context around a query–is a key part of Google’s effort to provide more useful and trustworthy results beyond matching keywords with Web pages. Eventually, Google wants to be able to provide trustworthy answers to questions like “What is good pain medication after eye surgery,” he said.

It’s starting slow, by using it to suggest conceptually related searches at the bottom of the search result page, where it already highlights related searches the user might to try. So a search for “principles of physics” will recommend “physics angular momentum” as well.

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