Google is experimenting with contextual discovery, or a means to push information to users without them searching for it - "search without search," in the words of one executive.
At the LeWeb conference in Paris, Google's consumer products chief, Marissa Mayer, explained that the work should result in a finished product or technology in 2011.
Mayer, who shifted from search to a role focusing on local technologies in October, was asked to explain her new role by Michael Arrington, the editor-in-chief of TechCrunch.
"We're looking at a lot of things in this geographic area, but we're also doing some things in the area of contextual discovery," Mayer said. "And that's can we take location and a user's context, and basically figure out what pieces of information they need. It's kind of search without search – without you saying anything in voice search, or typing anything – can we figure out, you haven't been to this place in Paris before, and you were just doing this, so we'll give you information about this place, when it was built, what was important about it, et cetera. If you walk past it every day we'll give you the news So, something like that. So we're trying to play around with some new concepts on how you find information."
"We have a couple things that we're experimenting with, but I anticipate that it will be out sometime next year," Mayer added.
In a way, Google's effort is simply the company's iGoogle technology extended to the mobile space. In 2007, Google engineer Sep Kamvar explained iGoogle in the context of pushing information.
"When we first started working on iGoogle, our goal was to build a product that was the answer to the query 'What do I want to see?' We formalized this mission as follows: Organize the world's push content in a fast, simple, and useful manner," Kamvar wrote. "The key specifying adjective here is "push" – while Google has historically been in the business of providing users with information when they provide a query, iGoogle is one of our efforts to give users the information they need without a query."
In 2007, at least, that additional content was created by third-party content creators. It's possible that Google sees contextual discovery in the same vein.
"We were aware from the start that we would not be able to create all the world's push content," Kamvar added. "Our strengths are in organizing content. So we launched the Google Gadgets API with the personalized homepage to allow third-party developers to create compelling content. As that content is created, we do what we do best, which is organize it and make it accessible to our users."
On Wednesday, Yahoo launched Yahoo Local, a site, organized by neighborhood, that provides news, activities and deals organized by physical location.
It seems likely that Google's Android mobile team could take this a bit further, providing information based on a user's location, and whether or not he or she checked in at a given location - an action that could be implied by Mayer's "you were just doing this" comment.
Persistent rumors have also swirled about Google's alleged plans for social networking, although Google executives have consistently said that they simply plan to layer social attributes over existing technologies.
It appears we won't know what Google plans until next year, however.