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How Busy Is Your Grocery Store Today? Google It

What's the Latest Development?

Writer Tom Simonite reports on his participation in an experiment that will help Google develop a new kind of search engine that provides answers to questions that users don't normally think can be answered by a search engine. During the Daily Information Needs Study, which involved approximately 150 people, Google contacted subjects' smartphones at random times of the day to ask, "What did you want to know recently?" and learn where they were going to find the answer. Simonite says he discovered plenty of examples of this kind of "unGoogleable" information: "[f]or example, how long the line currently is in a local grocery store."

What's the Big Idea?

Google already has or is working on "preemptive technology" that anticipates users' immediate needs in their present location with the help of GPS and other sensors. According to the study's lead designer, Jon Wiley, if the company intends to organize and make accessible all the world's information, it has to find out everything people need to know, including those things that don't usually get Googled. Experience sampling, such as was done in the study, worked for this purpose: "[Bugging people] on a mobile device is a relatively new technology, and it’s getting us better information that we really haven’t had in the past." 

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