Does a search for "Tombstone" imply the pizza or the movie?

Recently, iProspect spotted some curious additions to its instant search results: Modifiers for terms that could have multiple meanings based on intent.

In this case, giving users the option to get search engine results about Wyatt Earp the individual, or Wyatt Earp the 1994 movie – who I believe had the better overall cast compared to 1993’s Tombstone, but loses in a landslide based on Val Kilmer’s iconic portrayal of Doc Holliday. I’m only choosing to include that tangent because we’re seeing the same thing for a search for tombstone:

In fact, it appears that movies are the first place that Google is attempting to provide these distinctions, as we are also seeing a similar result for girl with a pearl earring:

…and the devil wears prada, which interestingly chooses to highlight the band rather than the book that the movie is based on:

This is an interesting development from Google, who has slipped features along these lines into some location and knowledge graph results. For example, a search for phantom of the opera brings up a window allowing you to pick between the musical, the movie, the book or the song.  A search for a multi-store brand like Nordstrom allows you to see results about the overall company rather than the individual store. But this marks the first real move towards providing these distinctions into the search results themselves.

Another interesting point is that these are only showing up in desktop searches, rather than mobile – when the expectation might be that Google would want to introduce these to mobile first as a potential timesaver for their more on-the-move audience.

Future implications

Google has moved for years towards a more semantic organization of its search results – in other words, serving search results (or at least breaking them down) based on the intent behind them.

For example, a search for fish could mean anything from a search for a restaurant, or a pet store, a good nearby fishing spot, a card game, or a number of other potential meanings. Google’s goal is to eventually provide search results that are of better use to its users in pursuing that intent. This may begin with some additional search suggestions – ‘Are you looking for a restaurant?’ – or evolve into few tabs for the different kind of results that you’re looking for – for example, offering results based on restaurants, pets stores, etc.

Eventually, Google’s goal is to serve you a search results page like you see today, only populated with the exact meaning you’re looking for based on things like your search history, information shared via Android, the time of day, and what other people nearby are searching for. Your search for fish in the morning might yield the nearest pet store to pick up some new additions to your fish bowl, and restaurants in the afternoon when you’re ready to find a dinner spot.

…but for now, helping you to get better results about early 90’s westerns, paintings and Merchant-Ivory films is what they likely consider a good start.

What now?

Leveraging what Google uses for its semantic signals will continue to become more important as it deepens its efforts towards the web. placement, citations in Wikipedia and other common data sources, and experimenting with data points and descriptors within Wikidata – and, apparently, IMDB – are our weapons today, but will likely evolve as Google seeks more insights and sources to better organize its search results, the web, and all human knowledge (as is its stated goal).