by Bill Snyder

Google Search Just Got Fresher and Faster

Nov 04, 20113 mins

Need an instant jolt of information? 'Google has added a new feature that updates its index of the Web faster than ever, and will speed up more than one-third of all searches

It’s hard to complain about Google’s speed. You get results in fractions of a second. But I’ve noticed that there are times when the results aren’t as fresh as I’d like.

Say I’m about to drive across the Bay to Oakland and I know that the Occupy group is demonstrating. I want to know if that’s tying up traffic, or I want an up-to-the minute update on the Raiders game, which is blacked out here in San Francisco.  In the past, a search on “Occupy Oakland” or “Oakland Raiders” might not catch a real-time blog that would give me that information. But now it will, Google promises. 

“Today we’re making a significant improvement to our ranking algorithm that impacts roughly 35 percent of searches and better determines when to give you more up-to-date relevant results for these varying degrees of freshness,” Google’s Amit Singhal wrotesaid in a blog post on Thursday.

Although Singhal didn’t say it, it’s fairly obvious that the change in the algorithm is related to competitive pressure from Twitter and Facebook. Many people in search of instant updates now go first to the social network, and that, of course, is something Google and its advertisers don’t like. You might remember that incorporated instant Twitter results, but that service died in July when the two companies couldn’t strike a deal.

 Of course, too much of a good thing isn’t so good. You wouldn’t want to be searching for a favorite Thanksgiving recipe posted some years ago and not be able to find it. Google, though, has thought of that. “Different searches have different freshness needs. This algorithmic improvement is designed to better understand how to differentiate between these kinds of searches and the level of freshness you need, and make sure you get the most up to the minute answers,” wrote Singhal.

The newest enhancements to Google search build on an indexing system called Caffeine that the company launched last year. Google explained it in the search blog last year, reminding readers that “when you search Google, you’re not searching the live Web. Instead you’re searching Google’s index of the Web.” 

Simply put, Caffeine indexes the Web a lot faster: “With Caffeine, we analyze the Web in small portions and update our search index on a continuous basis, globally. Caffeine takes up nearly 100 million gigabytes of storage in one database and adds new information at a rate of hundreds of thousands of gigabytes per day.”

In another post this week, Google announced that YouTube, which it owns, will stream live broadcasts of the Haji in Mecca this Saturday, Nov. 5. The Haji represents one of the five pillars of Islam; it requires all Muslims around the world who are able-bodied and can afford it to perform the pilgrimage once in their lifetime. Unless you’re a Muslim, you can’t participate directly, so this is an unusual opportunity to learn about an ancient, religious ritual: