Google's Holy Grail Draws Nigh: Universal Search

Once, deep within the hallowed corridors of Silicon Valley, it was spoken of only in whispers. Many dared not dream it possible—they feared that, like Icarus, their algorithms may bring them too close to the sun. But now that dream is nigh, and tech...

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Aug 9 2012, 7:10pm

Once, deep within the hallowed corridors of Silicon Valley, it was spoken of only in whispers. Many dared not dream it possible—they feared that, like Icarus, their algorithms may bring them too close to the sun. But now that dream is nigh, and tech blogs across the land may again boldly pronounce the words in SEO-engineered headlines: Universal Search.

For NextWeb asked Google what the future of search is, and they replied: “Everyone who asks that question, knows the answer deep inside their heart. They've actually dreamt the search engine of the future already.” Indeed?

Imagine it: A single white bar. A flickering cursor. And one all-purpose search field that can locate any and all of the information you desire. The inventor of the Rubik’s cube, what time your flight departs JFK, Winston Churchill’s middle name, the location of your next scheduled meeting with your accountant. One search.

It is Google’s Holy Grail, and it could save you literally dozens of milliseconds every single day. Imagine. No more cumbersome toggling between your Gmail tab and that other tab centimeters away. No more exasperation, drumming your fingers on your desk as you await the opening of Google Calendar.

So Google actually is developing a feature that allows you to simultaneously search each of your personal accounts—email, docs, calendar, etc—when you drop queries into the big bar. Hence the step closer to Universal Search. PC World explains:

Google doesn’t search your Gmail account every time you run a Web search. Instead, it offers to show Gmail results for certain types of queries, such as band names and locations. When Google has Gmail results to show, a box on the right-hand side of the screen says who the messages are from. You can then expand this box to see snippets of each message, and from there you can jump into Gmail to read the whole thing.

It looks like this:

Okay, so it’s a probably nice little addition to regular searches. Still, Tech2 sounds a cautious note, pointing out that “this could also bring in privacy and security issues. Leaving your Google account logged in on the wrong computer could compromise all of your mail, documents and calendar, among other things.”

That’s already a risk whenever you check email on another computer. Maybe a greater cause for concern is how exactly the algorithm will make your data available—will the software further expose your private stuffs in its quest to more efficiently traverse your info?

But the biggest unanswered question is this: who, besides Google or tech bloggers, really cares all that much about ‘Universal Search’? I’m serious. Doesn’t it kind of make sense to compartmentalize a bit, to make general queries one place and for personal info another? Does anyone terribly mind doing this? Is the quest for Universal Search kind of a waste of time?

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