Google overhauls search function

Google is about to add more features to its already dominant Internet search engine — and some of the changes could give Web surfers less reason to click through to other sites. That scenario might upset the creators of the material highlighted in Google's results.

For instance, one of Google's new tools will assemble the work of other Web sites into a spreadsheet-style format.

Unlike Google's traditional search results, the spreadsheet experiment, called "Google Squared," doesn't simply show a set of Web links related to a search request. Instead, it fishes through Google's massive database to organize pertinent facts and other content in rows and columns.

In a Tuesday demonstration that was webcast, Google showed how a search request made about small dogs through the Squared tool will display pictures next to extensive descriptions about different breeds, on Google's own site. The content was imported from other Internet destinations.

The Squared results show where the information originated, so people can still quickly go to the original source, said Marissa Mayer, Google's vice president of search products. She emphasized Google is trying to keep its millions of users happy by helping them make more "informed clicks."

Google already is under attack by newspaper publishers who contend the company unfairly profits by showing headlines and story snippets pulled from their sites. Mountain View, Calif.-based Google maintains that its practices adhere to copyright laws and that it provides ways for newspapers to block their content from being indexed by its search engine.

Other revisions coming to Google will include more details, or "snippets," posted under Web links in the search results. And there will be new options that will enable users to confine the results to a specific time period or category, such as product reviews.

The changes are expected to roll out in phases during the next few weeks.

Although Google sells ads all over the Web, the company rakes in its largest profits when people click on the marketing messages that appear alongside its search results. That is one reason Google is still trying to widen its lead in Internet search, even though it already processes nearly two-thirds of all U.S. queries, according to comScore Inc.

Even as it has laid off workers, cut back perquisites and closed unpopular services to help boost its profits during the recession, Google has vowed to keep investing in research and development.

"We are always striving for the ideal or perfect search engine," Mayer said. She believes Google is about 90 percent toward its objective, but expects the final 10 percent to be the most difficult.

The technology does misfire, as Google readily acknowledged Tuesday. As part of the sneak peek at Squared, Google showed how a request for information about vegetables returned a spreadsheet that included a row for the sport of squash.

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