This week marks Google’s 15th birthday, and while it is remarkable to ponder the ways in which the search engine is now so much more than a search engine — from producing the Android mobile operating system to exploring anti-aging research projects — Google marks its decade-and-a-half life with a change to its search function itself.
Google doesn’t like to publicize algorithm changes loudly; the new algorithm Hummingbird was implemented last month, and announced just recently. It will better adapt to the longer, more complex queries that users plug into the search engine, a product of the increasing usage of search through speech-to-text applications on mobile devices. Google is adapting to users’ adoption of new software that allows for more in-depth questions — something other applications have already begun to do.
Quora is a digital community that gears its content towards answering more complex queries from users with answers by users. Similar to Wikipedia in that the content is created by users and not an overarching fact-checker, it is different in that the questions are not so much fact-based as they are philosophical. Questions like “How do I become a better writer?” and “Is getting rich worth it?” have immediately available stacks of answers on Quora from users who are able to vote up or down. While Quora is just one ask-and-answer community among many others — Ask.com and Yahoo! Answers are two other widely-used sites — Quora’s launch in 2009 and subsequent development show a trend in user preference for personalized answers to more philosophical questions when searching the internet.
Of course, the basic search function of Google will always be needed; someone somewhere will always need to know what the capital of Burkina-Faso is, or the atomic number of molybdenum. But Google’s sweeping change to the math behind its search engine is an indication of a global change in search in general. After all, if the most widely used search engine on the internet is changing the way it produces answers, then the questions must be piling in from all corners of the globe.