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Google rolls out an algorithm designed for questions (+video)

Will search be improved with Hummingbird? Google is betting it will. 

By Matthew Shaer / September 27, 2013

Amit Singhal, senior vice president of search at Google, introduces the new Hummingbird search algorithm in the garage where the company was founded. Google has overhauled its search algorithm, the foundation of the Internet's dominant search engine, to better cope with the longer, more complex queries it has been getting from Web users.

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Today is Google's 15th birthday, and to celebrate, the search engine has rolled out a spiffy new interactive doodle. It's also introduced, for the first time in years, a major new algorithm to help it better sort results. 

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The algorithm, Hummingbird, was unveiled at a press event in the garage of the 1,900-square-foot Mountain View home where Google was founded.

Google isn't getting too specific on how exactly Hummingbird works, but according to TechCrunch, the algorithm affects approximately 90 percent of searches, and is focused at least partially on answering questions, such as "Will the Red Sox win the World Series?" or "How long should I cook this Hot Pocket for?"

"Hummingbird pays more attention to each word in the query, ensuring the whole query is taken into account – so if a resulting page is a bit less strong in general, but it's the most relevant to your search terms, that's the result you'll get," a Google rep told the Register today. "And if there are plenty of relevant matches to your search terms, Hummingbird does a better job picking the strongest page for you."

As Thomas Claburn of Information Week notes, Google tweaks its algorithm several hundred times a year, but only rarely majorly overhauls the search architecture.

The biggest update was Panda, in 2011, which was intended to ostensibly help filter out lower quality sites. It worked, but it also sent plenty of organizations scrambling to figure out how to best take advantage of the new landscape. 

Smart money's on something similar happening with Hummingbird. 

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