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Google’s Caffeine Perks Up Search

Google has sped up its search engine with the introduction of its Caffeine Web indexing system.

This will provide 50 percent fresher results for Web searches than its previous index and is the largest collection of Web content the Web search giant has offered in search results, Google software engineer Carrie Grimes said.

The Caffeine rollout is the latest in a series of improvements Google has made to its search engine over the past few months as it remains locked in a struggle with competitors for search engine and online ad market share.

Good Just Got Great?

“Content on the Web is blossoming,” Grimes wrote to explain why Google built a new search indexing system in Caffeine. “Not only is it growing in size and numbers, but with the advent of video, images, news and realtime updates, the average Web page is richer and more complex.”

Further, people have higher expectations for search now, Grimes wrote. “Searchers want to find the latest relevant content, and publishers expect to be found the instant they publish,” Grimes said.

Caffeine takes a new approach to indexing Web pages in order to speed things up.

“We’ve moved from a batched indexing system to an incremental system that enables us to more quickly and efficiently refresh pages,” Google spokesperson Jake Hubert told TechNewsWorld. “Our technology enables us to add pages to the index as soon as we crawl them.”

Previously, Google would index pages in large batches that often ran to “billions” of documents because it would analyze the entire Web each time it updated the index, Hubert explained. With Caffeine, it now analyzes the Web in small portions and updates the index continuously.

“Another way to think about this is that we’ve gone from indexing batches of billions of documents to processing billions of batches, each with one document,” Hubert said.

Adjusting the Grind on Caffeine

Caffeine processes hundreds of thousands of pages in parallel every second. It takes up nearly 100 million GB of storage in one database and adds hundreds of thousands of GB of information to that database daily.

It also accesses information in a variety of formats. Google had to tweak the way it processes content to let Caffeine do this.

“As the Web has evolved, so has Google,” the search engine giant’s Hubert said. “With Caffeine, we’ve improved the way we process a variety of content types, including JavaScript and Flash.”

Is a Fast Brew Useful?

Sheer speed may not necessarily be useful to consumers, Laura DiDio, principal at ITIC, pointed out.

“How fast is fast?” she asked. “Most of these search engines are pretty fast now. Does it matter if results come up faster than in the blink of an eye?”

The increased speed could actually cause problems, DiDio told TechNewsWorld.

“The point nobody is really addressing is that, in this rush to get things out faster, there is no fact checking,” DiDio explained. “None of the search engine sites vouches for the accuracy of the information it puts out there, so, as they put information out there faster, they could also put inaccurate information out there faster.”

Improving the Taste

Google’s rollout of Caffeine is the latest in a string of improvements it has made to its search engine.

In May, Google rolled out a new look and feel for results on both desktop and mobile platforms. In December, it integrated live updates from social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook’s Friendfeed, and added visual search through its Google Goggles application.

Google’s doing all this to fight off the competition. Though it still maintains a strong lead in the field, Yahoo and Microsoft’s Bing are making slight gains. Comscore’s April 2010 search engine rankings show that Google sites had 64.4 percent of the search market, down 0.7 percent from March. Yahoo sites had 17.7 percent of the market in April, up 0.8 percent over March. Microsoft sites had 11.8 percent of the search market in April, up 0.1 percent over March.

Both Microsoft and Yahoo have also introduced visual search in their search engines in the past few months. Yahoo also launched a new search page and is working on technology to refine results on Yahoo Search.

Comscore’s now tallying the May results, which will be out next week.

Selling the Brew

Google’s flurry of announcements in recent months is as much a marketing campaign as it is a series of technological advances.

“If folks get a strong positive experience on Google search compared to Bing and Yahoo, Google could get back some of the people it has lost to those search engines,” Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, told TechNewsWorld. “As the dominant vendor, Google just has to create the impression of adequate progress to hold on to users, and Caffeine does that at the very least,” he added.

“Clearly Google’s looking over its shoulder at Microsoft with Bing,” ITIC’s DiDio said. “Google lost what, 1 percent market share in April, and while that doesn’t seem much per se, it’s battling Microsoft with Bing and Apple with iAds,” she continued.

“About 97 percent of Google’s revenue is tied to advertising and search in some way, shape or form,” Enderle pointed out. “Caffeine appears more cutting-edge than Bing, and that’s the goal to blunt competitive incursions into its market.”

Speeding up search results may help Google fight off other search engines as well as Apple’s incursion into the mobile ad market with the iAds platform. Mobile advertising is seen as a strong area of growth, and iAds has proved to be a formidable threat.

Only eight weeks after iAds was introduced, major companies have US$60 million in advertising for the second half of the year, Apple chairman and CEO Steve Jobs announced Monday. The entire U.S. mobile ad market totals $250 million yearly, Jobs said.

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