04
Jun
09

Google Squared – vaguely cool, but really crude

I don’t get Google Squared.

At first glance it seems interesting: returning search results as a list of items, with common attributes in columns.

But in its current state I don’t see how to make this actually useful for anything. James Turner seems much more excited about it, but he points out a lot of deficiencies. There’s no About or FAQ on the site, so there’s no telling what the Google Labs team is up to with this. It’s clearly in a very early alpha state. Comparisons with Wolfram Alpha are off the mark, I don’t see any similarity between the two services.

For example, consider a search for US presidents. A reasonable expectation is that you’d get back something similar to the Wikipedia List of Presidents. But no:

  • The list caps out at 7 (apparently random) items. The number of U.S. presidents is well-known and small; in such cases the list should automatically be comprehensive.
  • There’s no sorting option, and no column reordering. Those are presumable oversights.
  • Recording data provenance for each cell in the square is very useful. But you should be able to identify a preferred source for a particular column, rather than having to do it for every individual cell.
  • No sharing! If I build a comprehensive square on a topic, then I should be able to make that available to others as the default search result, replacing the minimal square automatically generated by Google.

If Google adds some basic community features to Squared, it might just become minimally useful.

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