Marissa Mayer and Google’s Local Search Strategy
“We ultimately know we need to get social right,” she conceded. “If you think about the Web, there are four key platforms—search, video, mobile, and social. Google has done really well in three of those four. And we haven’t gotten social right yet. But we do need the context of who your friends are and who you know. I think there are various ways we can work towards that.” ~ Marissa Mayer
Marissa Mayer, the executive behind Google’s search engine, now aims to help the company conquer social media and personalize your Web experience on mobile phones. She talks to David Kirkpatrick about her war with Facebook.
For 11 years, Mayer was in charge of Google’s signature Web search product—and recently moved over to overseeing local products, a key growth area as the Internet’s pervasive influence increasingly extends to wherever we are. In Google’s lexicon, “local” includes its excellent maps as well as mobile search technology to help you understand what’s around you on the go. Many of her group’s projects also extend into the social arena, so she had interesting things to say about Facebook, too.
Mayer also explained how the Google Goggles application, which already works as part of the Google Mobile app on recent versions of the Apple iPhone and phones with Google’s Android operating system, can work in conjunction with location to be more useful. She used the hypothetical example of bird identification—if Google knows where you are and the time of year, it can do a much more reliable job of identifying a bird you just photographed.
“At a restaurant you might see a marked-up version of a menu on your phone, based on experiences.”
But she noted that various applications can help Google figure out who your friends are. For example, Google Latitude, an application that allows you to follow the physical location of close friends or relatives at all times on a map. It’s been operational on Android and BlackBerries for a while, and just a week previously had launched on the iPhone. Once you tell Google who your friends are on Latitude, that same information might eventually be used for other services like socially marked-up menus, if you permitted it. The point is that Google may have more ways to acquire social information than just by building its own competing social network.
Mayer herself carries two phones—an iPhone 4 and the Nexus S—a new device whose hardware as well as software is designed by Google, made by Samsung, and sold in the U.S. just for the T-Mobile network.
Some experts in Mayer’s group are working on applications that enable you to talk into your phone and have it translated into text that appears on the screen, or even push a button and have it read aloud in another language. A prototype of such a service in Japanese was used for an employee treasure hunt in Tokyo this year.
Such mind-boggling innovations will be commercial shortly. They are the fruits of a set of parallel but separate innovations in computer science that Google is quickly putting to work. “If translation weren’t as good we wouldn’t be able to do it,” says Mayer. “Or if text-to-speech or speech-to-text weren’t as good, we couldn’t do it. The next big breakthroughs will come in image recognition, like with the bird example, or facial recognition.”