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The Google Tinfoil Hat at BrightonSEO

The first talk up at the second BrightonSEO conference of 2014 was given by Ian Miller (@millerian) from Crafted with the subject "Predicting the future of Google, and why it's no longer a search company" - not an insignificant topic to attempt to cover in the thirty or so minutes he had. Ian offered the audience, myself included, some fascinating insights into the direction he thinks Google is taking and his reasons.

It's all about the data

Based on the observation of the products and services Google is creating and acquiring (along with what Google itself has said publicly at its own Google I/O conference), the Company is clearly all about collecting and processing data to gain an insight into each and every one of us. It's not just about a partial insight based on what we search for but a whole picture of every aspect of our life.

So, where is Google going to, or already in most cases, getting this data from? Well, just take a look at Google's products and services. Google's original core product is search, so it already knows what you search for and have searched for in the past, but what else:

  • Google Chrome so it knows what you are looking at, even when you don't go to it via a Google search.
  • Youtube to gain an insight into the type of video content you are interested in. This could inform Google of many things about you. For example, if you tend to watch a large number of videos relating to technology, then you are clearly interested in the latest tech innovations.
  • Google Mail now accounts for around 10% of all emails sent and received, so it knows what you are talking about.
  • Google Android has an 85% market share in the smartphone market and it is tracking where you are, what you are doing, what applications you are using, etc...
  • Google Chromecast knows what you are watching on your TV.
  • Google Drive for you to create and store all your important documents and information on.
  • Google Glass so you can transmit everything you see, everywhere you go, every minute of every day back to Google's servers.
  • Google Public DNS service to cover the "what you visit" even more.
  • Google Fiber - Google is currently investing a huge amount of money in offering internet services, currently rolling out Google Fiber across the US as well as developing technologies to get rural and developing nations online with Project Loon.
  • Google Wallet and the current Google Express Shopping trial in the US means Google knows what you are buying.
  • Google Cloud Platform - A service to allow individuals and companies to buy hosting and compute services, data storage, data processing and other computing service on an "only pay for what you need" basis.
  • Google Domains - A new service from Google to allow web owners to register and manage their internet domains names. This is mainly aimed at individuals and companies using the above Google Cloud Platform to host web properties.
  • Google Consumer Surveys - Allows market researchers and website owners to create surveys to either target specific demographics or their website users with standard or custom surveys.
  • Skybox - In June 2014 Google acquired Skybox, a satellite imaging company that offers satellite imaging as a service using it own lightweight, made in-house, nibble ranges of satellites. It also has a range of image processing technologies which allows it to detect particular things within the images. Google has said the main reason for this purchase is to keep Google Maps images up-to-date but there are many other applications that this type of technology could be put to, for example, quick assessments of areas affected by natural disasters just hours or even minutes after it has happened. If this is possible then there would be other, less socially philanthropic uses. For example, there could be imaging of car parks for every Tesco supermarket in the UK (at different times of the day and week) detecting the number of cars present at a particular time and then using this to make an assessment of the company's possible performance.
  • Behavio - In April 2013 the Behavio team decided to join Google and continue to work on its open source funf framework. This framework is an extensible sensing and data processing framework for mobile devices. It gives developers access to a set of functions for collecting and uploading a range of data signals generated by mobile devices. Again, more insights into your mobile online life.
  • Nest - In January 2014 Google acquired thermostat and fire detector company Nest. Most analysts think this acquisition was more about the people and the 'in development' products than the products Nest is currently making. Once again Google can gather information about you from these home automation products, learning about your habits of when you are at home and are not, how you like your environment and so on. Another piece of the puzzle that is your life.
  • DropCam - In June 2014 Google Nest purchased DropCam for $555m bringing it together with another company working on home automation. DropCam allows you to quickly and easily set up cameras that you can then access remotely from anywhere you have an internet connection and a compatible device like your laptop or smartphone.
  • Deepmind - In January 2014 Google purchased DeepMind, a London based artificial intelligence company. This acquisition is seen by many as another part of Google's plans to understand all the data it is collecting. DeepMind is a machine learning system that attempts to understand and make sense of vast quantities of data, that previously would not have been possible.
  • Freebase - In 2010 Google acquired Metaweb and with it Freebase, a free online database of data that is already formatted and annotated, making it far easier to find relationships between information. The information contained within Freebase is similar to that of Wikipedia but it is the formatting and annotation that makes this data far more valuable to Google.

So why is Google collecting all this information about each and every one of us as often as they can and about every aspect of our life? Well the conspiracy theorists will tell you that Google is evil and money grabbing by offering us up to advertisers.

Iain's point of view however was very different and probably far more accurate, Google wants to be your cyber best friend!

To keep itself relevant, it is changing from being a content indexer that allows you to find information by entering keywords to being a "context engine" that understands information within your current context and can present you with the information you need when you need it and more often than not without you even asking for it!

Google Now

Google is already heading in this direction today with Google Now on Android and iOS devices. Google Now uses the data Google stores about you (with your permission), e.g. web searches, your location, regular travel movements, etc. to provide you with context sensitive information when it thinks you need it. For example, it might give you travel information about your trip to work before you leave the house each day, or the weather for the local area, recent posts on blogs you visit, the latest news about your favourite sports team, etc...

This really is Google's first step into becoming a "context engine" instead of being a "search engine" and it is getting better at it every day. The change from search to context engine is already underway and will happen slowly over the course of many years and most people will probably not even consciously notice the change. However the impact on all our lives and businesses will be absolutely massive.



Andrew Dixon, Technical Director



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