Pretty soon, searching for something on Google could point you back to your own Gmail inbox. The search giant is reportedly testing an experimental new feature that will mine a user's email for any relevant data tied to a search request. Sound confusing? It's more simple than it sounds. Here's what you need to know:
How would this work exactly?
Essentially, when you type in a search string, Google will include related personal emails in the right column. For example: Say you're planning to travel to the Grand Canyon with friends from across the country. In the main results column, a search for "Grand Canyon hotels" will still yield the usual search results (the Bright Angel Lodge, for instance). But in the new Gmail results module off to the right, Google will also include email threads between you and your friends about the trip. Theoretically, this will make it easier to double-check logistics (such as everyone's windows of availability) and figure out which days you should request off from work.
So it won't search anyone else's email, just mine?
That's correct. You'll need to be logged into your Google account for the feature to even work, so users don't have to worry about someone mistakably reading their emails. Also, if you're in a public setting (like at work) you can toggle the Gmail box to hide it if someone's peering over your shoulder.
Is this feature mandatory?
Nope. The feature will be opt-in, says Jose Vilches at TechSpot, "which means that if you don't go out of your way to participate, nothing will change for you" and your email and search results will remain separate. Google is testing the feature right now in a limited trial, and understands that it needs to roll out new services like this in "baby steps" or risk user outrage.
Why are they doing this?
It's all tied back to Google's new "Knowledge Graph" initiative. Essentially, the search giant's big goal is to make finding information friendlier, more relevant, and more personal. Although Google has a "commanding lead" in search, it's worried about competitors like Facebook, says the Associated Press. "As social networks have made it easier to share information online, the web is starting to revolve more around people than the keywords and links" that Google's search engine provides. Roping in Gmail, arguably one of the company's most popular services, is just the next step.
Is this a good idea?
"Blurring a traditionally private space" like Gmail with public search results will likely prompt uneasiness, says Thomas Claburn at InformationWeek. If Google stumbles with this project, they could lose even more trust with the public. "Ultimately, it might not be a bad idea [for curious users] to hang back and let others stumble across any unexpected security issues," at least at first.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- The mystery behind China's aggressive push into space
- Here's the schedule very successful people follow every day
- Yes, Republicans can impeach President Obama
- What religious traditionalists can teach us about sex
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- The 5 best and worst states for a well-lived life
- Why Texas' abortion rates aren't falling as quickly as everyone expected
- Why all drugs should be legal. (Yes, even heroin.)
- The 6 best low-cost smartphones
- 7 ideas from ancient thinkers that will improve your modern life
Subscribe to the Week