From its beginnings, the Google search engine has offered a simple user interface: type your search query into a box, and you can see what the Internet has to offer you. The results are delivered largely in the form of blue text, hyperlinked to other sites. In recent years, the results have been upgraded with visual results, relevant news stories, and other forms of relevant content.
However, Google’s internal research has shown that a large portion of younger Internet users Prefer to search for information about social apps, such as Instagram and TikTok, via Google products. These evolving user preferences help explain why Google has developed its core search tools to include more forms of multimedia communication, and to include information from more “trusted” sources such as social media posts.
“The way people search for author information was never meant to be constrained by typing words,” Kathy Edwards, Google’s vice president and general manager of search, told reporters ahead of Google’s Search On event on Wednesday. “There is a lot of information on the web that comes in different formats, in different voices, with different authority and expertise.”
During Wednesday’s event, Google announced that it will offer search users content from “creators on the open web.” If a user searches for the name of a particular city, for example, they may get results that include visual stories and short videos from people who have visited that place.
“We can really see, as we enter this new era of research, that you will be able to find exactly what you are looking for by combining images, sounds, text and speech organized in a way that works for you,” Edwards said. “And that ultimately helps you understand the world.”
Edwards acknowledged that “there is some really good content” on TikTok, as it lowered the barriers to entry for content creation. “We’re looking at more ways to factor that into our search results,” she said.
Google’s “new search era” also includes a greater focus on community-led conversations on forums like Reddit – another platform as a substitute for Google search. Google is launching a new feature in Search called Discussions in Forums that delivers these results.
“There are obviously people who are eager to see more results from Reddit and other community forums in our results,” Edwards said. “Basically, this is just about giving people what they want, when and what’s most beneficial to them when they come to us.”
At the same time, Edwards said that Google is focused on ensuring that users can find “both reliable information and authoritative information” in its search tools.
“We also see in our research that people come to Google specifically to verify their claims and … to help them decide if they want to believe something they might have found in a social feed,” she said. “They really trust that they will be able to find quality information on Google, and I think that’s really important as well.”
Google’s growing focus on multimedia search isn’t just about results – it’s also about how people ask questions.
Earlier this year, Google introduced multiple search in beta, allowing users to search a topic using both images and text simultaneously. Now, in the coming months, Google will be extending this capability to more than 70 languages.
Meanwhile, Google is also improving its Lens capabilities. People already use Google to translate text in images over a billion times per month across more than 100 languages. Now, if you point the camera at a photo with text on it, Lens will be able to translate the text and overlay the translated text on the photos underneath. For example, if you are reading the label on a bag of chips, the text in your preferred language will appear on that bag of chips.
“Instead of covering up the original text, we are actually erasing it and then rebuilding the pixels below it with an AI-generated background,” Edwards explained. “Then we overlay the translated text on top of the image. So it’s like you’re just looking at that product bundle with the translated text.” This feature is launching later this year.