First unveiled in late May, Google today officially – and relatively quietly – launched an experimental search tool called Google Squared. Unlike Google's traditional engine, Google Squared lumps results into cells and tables. For instance, type in "British Poets," and Google Squared spits out a spreadsheet of writerly types, from Shakespeare to Keats, arranged by date of birth, name, and place of birth.
From there, you can click through the websites that provided the results, or customize each cell to relay only the information you're interested in. There's also a social networking component to Google Squared: users can share their squares with their friends, and with their friends' friends, eventually creating a meta-web of customized information.
As Google notes in a helpful FAQ section on Squared, the program "can learn from edits and corrections you make to your Square to gradually improve its quality for all users. So although your Square most likely won't be perfect from the get-go, it's worth it to take the time to clean and correct it."
"Does Google Squared crush Wolfram Alpha today?" asks Tech Crunch's Erick Schonfeld, referring to another new search engine, which is capable of answering complex questions "No. But as I originally suggested when it was announced, adding structure to the Web will eventually win out over a self-contained database. Even if it seems primitive today, its approach scales better than Wolfram [Alpha’s]."
As Schonfeld points out, "unlike Wolfram Alpha, [Google Squared] does not 'compute' answers based on data that it has ingested into its own databases. Its database is the Web."
On first click-through, Google Squared appears to be a solid entry into the search field. It neatly classifies information in a way that other engines can't, and it allowed us to easily cross-reference information on, say, Barack Obama. At the same time, the results page is very busy, and it takes a while for the eye to adjust to the format of the page. If the winning strategy of Google's original engine is simplicity, the vibe here is a little more cluttered – with information arranged vertically and horizontally, users may find it tricky to orient themselves.
Still, most of us judge web tools more on functionality than aesthetics. If Google can make its new Squared program work, it could be a game-changer.