MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. – In its latest technological leap, online search leader Google Inc. (GOOG) will begin showing videos on its main results page Wednesday along with photos, books and other content previously separated into different categories.
Under a new "universal search" approach that Google began rolling out Wednesday afternoon, some requests will produce more than just a series of links and snippets pointing to other Web sites.
As an example, the results to the search request "I have a dream" will include an actual video showing Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous 1963 speech, along with the usual assortment of Web links.
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The videos will be shown on Google's results page if it's contained in the company's own database or the vast library of its YouTube subsidiary.
A thumbnail will direct traffic to videos hosted on other sites like Metacafe.com.
Other Google results will more frequently show photos or information from the more than 1 million books that the company has copied during the past two years.
More news stories and local information pertaining to search requests will be displayed on Google's first results page — perhaps the most prized showcase on the Web.
Google's database has included photos, books, videos and local information for several years, but fetching the content usually required searching through one of the customized channels featured in a row of links above the main query box.
A new link to Google's increasingly popular e-mail service, Gmail, will be added above the query box in the next day or two to make it easier to access for existing users and presumably more alluring to Web surfers who haven't already opened an account.
By intermingling different types of Web content on its main result page, Google is betting it can become even more useful to its millions of users and maintain the competitive advantage that has established the Mountain View-based company as a cultural and financial phenomenon.
The increased emphasis on video also could alienate some longtime users who revere Google for its traditionally staid results page.
"It's going to be interesting to see how people react," said Greg Sterling, who runs the research firm Sterling Market Intelligence. "I think it will create more value for users."
While those rivals have been investing heavily in improvements just to catch up, Google has been spending even more to soup it search engine.
Last year alone, Google's capital expenditures totaled $1.9 billion, and the company is on a pace to spend even more this year as it builds more data centers to handle heavy-duty computing jobs. Google executives said it took two years to lay the groundwork for the switch to universal search.
The change realizes one of the visions that drove Google's $1.76 billion acquisition of the video-sharing site YouTube.
Just days before announcing that deal last October, Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page lamented their inability to show videos on the main results page and said they were working hard to address the weakness.
Now that Google is showing videos in the search results, it may not be much longer before the company begins airing video ads in addition to the short text ads that have accounted for nearly all of its profits so far.
"I do think this opens the door for a richer medium on the search results page," said Marissa Mayer, Google's vice president of search products and user experience. "For us, ads are answers as well."
Since all videos from YouTube and the company's database will be streamed on a player embedded on the main results page, the change also could mean people stay longer on Google's Web site — another factor that could boost profits.
Although Google also distributes ads to thousands of other Web sites, it makes more money from messages on its own property because it doesn't have to share the commissions.
"Our goal is not to have people spend more time on Google," Brin said Wednesday. "It's for people to accomplish more on Google."
By creating another major channel to show YouTube videos, Google also could be courting more copyright trouble.
Since its inception, YouTube has regularly shown pirated videos posted by its users, a problem that has spurred several copyright infringement lawsuits, including a $1 billion damage claim by Viacom Inc. (VIA)
Both Google and YouTube say they have adhered to the law by removing pirated videos after receiving a request from a copyright holder.