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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Google’s Roald Dahl Logo Illustrates Universal Search

Today is author Roald Dahl’s birthday (he was born on September 13, 1916), and Google put up a special celebration logo on their homepage. Wikipedia, quick to update its articles, already references the logo and mentions it showcases items and characters from Roald’s books, including Matilda and James and the Giant Peach. Today in the UK, it’s also the second annual Roald Dahl Day with some events taking place across the country, celebrating the author’s life and his works like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

More noteworthy than the logo itself this time is the search result page it leads to. As usual, Google links the celebration to a search query – today, that’s roald dahl – which also has the potential to illustrate the usefulness (or lack of, depending) of a specific result, and what parts it’s made up of. In this case, the result page is a good illustration of Google’s universal search approach. “Universal Search” was officially announced in May this year but was an iterative continuation of Google’s past approaches of bringing all kinds of search results onto a single homepage. This way, you don’t need to remember different special search engines, but you can just enter all your search queries into one box (hence the approach was also called “onebox” by Google).

In the query for Roald Dahl, the top result – at least here, local results may vary – is a Google Books onebox. This box underwent a slight change recently and right now displays 3 different books from the author, next to the cover of one of those books. Clicking on any of these will take you to Google Book Search, where you can read summaries, search within the book, look for reviews and more. You can also buy the book from several different sites offered (right now, these sites seem to be sorted alphabetically – from over Barnes & Noble to Google Product Search, former Froogle – meaning Google’s own service comes in last). Next up in line on Google’s unified results page are so-called organic results with the official Roald Dahl homepage, followed by an encyclopedic entry from Wikipedia, and a Roald Dahl fan site. The fourth result right now is itself a onebox, this time aggregating Google News results from different sources. Further down the page, you will find Google’s related searches suggestions, with queries like “roald dahl poems” or “charlie and the chocolate factory" forwarding you to yet another Google search.

As Google explained before, each query will see different oneboxes and onebox rankings depending on how relevant Google’s algorithms deem a particular connection between items. A search for charlie and the chocolate factory for instance does not bring up any Google Books results, but links to video results on top, contains News Archive mentions at the bottom, as well as a couple of images from Google Image search, all showing scenes from the movie with Johnny Depp. So as opposed to a general query for the author’s name, in this case the movie seems to overrule the books connection in popular culture; Google has to make some decisions to resolve the ambiguity of the query, as it could refer to both the book or the movie (or both). If you append the word “book” to the query – charlie and the chocolate factory book – the ambuigity is resolved, and the top result is a Google Books onebox again, with all Johnny Depp imagery removed from the universal results page.


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