Google launches Covid-19 page and search portal with safety tips, official stats and more, US-only for now

Google says Coronavirus has become its biggest search topic by a country mile this year, and to continue its efforts to harness that attention in the best possible way, late on Friday the company launched a new information portal dedicated to the pandemic as well as an improved search experience for desktop and mobile.

The search experience, Google says, was updated in response to “people’s information needs expanding,” while the new information portal also provides the basic, most useful information (for example around symptoms), plus a lot of links and on-site options to explore further.

Something notably absent on Google’s page or search experience are any links to conversation forums or places to hear and talk to other average people. Google has never been particularly successful in its many efforts to break into social media and this underscores that, while also helping it steer away from the fact that many of these forums are not always well managed. I would imagine that more tools for direct communication, such as the Google Hangouts product, and possibly others in that same category, might well be added or linked to as well over time.

Let’s dive into some more details.

The new search experience now not only includes search results but also a number of additional links to “authoritative information” from health authorities and updated data and visualisations.

“This new format organizes the search results page to help people easily navigate information and resources, and it will also make it possible to add more information over time as it becomes available,” Emily Moxley, Google’s product manager for search, writes in a blog post.

The search experience now also includes links to a Twitter carousel featuring accounts from civic organizations local to you, and also a new “most common questions” section related to the pandemic from the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This is rolling out first in the US in English and Google said it would be adding more languages and regions soon.

Meanwhile, the portal — also available first for the US — features tips on staying healthy and advice for those who are concerned; links to further official resources; links to more localised resources; links to fundraising efforts; the latest statistics; and an overview of all of Google’s own work (for example, the specific efforts it’s making for educators). We have asked the company when and if it plans to cover other regions beyond the US, and we’ll update this as we learn more.

This is an important move for Google. The internet has figured as critical platform from the earliest days of the Novel Coronavirus emerging out of China, but it hasn’t all been positive.

On one hand, there has been a ton of misinformation spread around about the virus, and the internet overall (plus specific sites like Google’s search and social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter) has played a huge role in being responsible for disseminating the majority of that bad news. (Not all those searches and clicks lead to the right information, or good data, unfortunately.)

On the other hand, it’s also been an indispensable resource: in countries where health services have already become overwhelmed by the influx of people seeking help, official online portals (like this one) are serving a very important role in triaging inbound requests before people resort to physically getting themselves into the system (if they need to). And the internet is the main place people will turn in the days and weeks ahead as they are asked to socially isolate themselves to slow down the spread of the pandemic, serving its role in providing information, but hopefully also some diversion and enrichment.

Google’s site is bringing together as many of the positive and legitimate strands of information as it can.

The main page focuses on the most important basics: an brief overview of the virus, a list of the most common symptoms, a list of most common things you can do to prevent getting infected or spreading the infection and a (very brief, for now) section on treatments.

From this, it goes on to more detailed links to videos and other resources for specific interests such as advice for the elderly, a map-based data overview to monitor what is going on elsewhere; and then resources for further help for topics that are coming up a lot, such as advice for people working from home, or for how to set up self-isolation, online education advice, cooking resources and more. Relief efforts so far only has one link, to the Solidarity Response Fund started by the UN Foundation, which has had a donation of $50 million from Google. \

There are a number of other relief and fundraising efforts underway, including those to help fund the race for research to improve the medical tools and medicine we have to fight this. I think the idea is that all of these sections will grow and evolve as the situation evolves.

Google’s Collections feature now pushes people to save recipes & products, using AI

Google is giving an AI upgrade to its Collections feature — basically, Google’s own take on Pinterest, but built into Google Search. Originally a name given to organizing images, the Collections feature that launched in 2018 let you save for later perusal any type of search result — images, bookmarks or map locations — into groups called “Collections.” Starting today, Google will make suggestions about items you can add to Collections based on your Search history across specific activities like cooking, shopping or hobbies.

The idea here is that people often use Google for research but don’t remember to save web pages for easy retrieval. That leads users to dig through their Google Search History in an effort to find the lost page. Google believes that AI smarts can improve the process by helping users build reference collections by starting the process for them.

Here’s how it works. After you’ve visited pages on Google Search in the Google app or on the mobile web, Google will group together similar pages related to things like cooking, shopping and hobbies, then prompt you to save them to suggested Collections.

For example, after an evening of scouring the web for recipes, Google may share a suggested Collection with you titled “Dinner Party,” which is auto-populated with relevant pages from your Search history. You can uncheck any recipes that don’t belong and rename the collection from “Dinner Party” to something else of your choosing, if you want. You then tap the “Create” button to turn this selection from your Search history into a Collection.

These Collections can be found later in the Collections tab in the Google app or through the Google.com side menu on the mobile web. There is an option to turn off this feature in Settings, but it’s enabled by default.

The Pinterest-like feature aims to keep Google users from venturing off Google sites to other places where they can save and organize things they’re interested in — whether that’s a list of recipes they want to add to a pinboard on Pinterest or a list of clothing they want to add to a wish list on Amazon. In particular, retaining e-commerce shoppers from leaving Google for Amazon is something the company is heavily focused on these days. The company recently rolled out a big revamp of its Google Shopping vertical, and just this month launched a way to shop directly from search results.

The issue with sites like Pinterest is that they’re capturing shoppers at an earlier stage in the buying process — during the information-gathering and inspiration-seeking research stage, that is. By saving links to Pinterest’s pinboards, shoppers ready to make a purchase are bypassing Google (and its advertisers) to check out directly with retailers.

Meanwhile, Google is simultaneously losing traffic to Amazon, which now surpasses Google for product searches. Even Instagram, of all places, has become a rival, as it’s now a place to shop. The app’s Shopping feature is funneling users right from its visual ads to a checkout page in the app. PayPal, catching wind of this trend, recently spent $4 billion to buy Honey in order to capture shoppers earlier in their journey.

For users, Google Collections is just about encouraging you to put your searches into groups for later access. But for Google, it’s also about getting people to shop on Google and stay on Google, no matter what they’re researching. Suggested Collections may lure you in as an easy way to organize recipes, but ultimately this feature will be about getting users to develop a habit of saving their searches to Google — and particularly their product searches.

Once you have a Collection set up, Google can point you to other related items, including websites, images  and more. Most importantly, this will serve as a new way to get users to perform more product searches, too, as it can send users to other product pages without the user having to type in an explicit search query.

The update also comes with an often-requested collaboration feature, which means you can now share a collection with others for either viewing or editing.

Sharing and related content suggestions are live worldwide.

The AI-powered suggested collections are live in the U.S. for English users starting today and will reach more markets in time.

‘Disney Plus’ was the #1 U.S. Google search term in 2019

Google today released its annual “Year in Search” data that takes a look back at some of the biggest searches of 2019. Specifically, Google looked at the biggest trends — meaning, search terms that saw the largest spikes in traffic over a sustained period in 2019 compared to 2018. In the U.S., Disney’s new streaming service “Disney Plus” was the biggest search trend of 2019, followed by Cameron Boyce, Nipsey Hussle, Hurricane Dorian, Antonio Brown, Luke Perry, Avengers: Endgame, Game of Thrones, iPhone 11, and Jussie Smollet.

“Game of Thrones” was also the biggest U.S. TV show search trend of the year, followed by Netflix’s “Stranger Things” and “When They See Us,” then HBO’s “Chernobyl,” and Disney Plus’s “The Mandalorian.”

On the global stage, Apple’s iPhone 11 was the fifth biggest trend of the year, one ahead of Game of Thrones (#6), but behind searches for “India vs South Africa,” which ranked No. 1. The rest of the list included (in order): Cameron Boyce (#2), Copa America (#3), Bangladesh vs India (#4), Avengers: Endgame (#7), Joker (#8), Notre Dame (#9), and ICC Cricket World Cup (#10).

Tech companies’ influence on Google’s Top Trends could also be found in the music category, where “Old Town Road” was the top trending Song globally and in the U.S. in 2019. The Lil Nas X hit song went viral on TikTok this year after the rapper himself uploaded it to the platform back in December 2018.

In addition to topping Google’s list, Lil Nas X was also the No. 1 artist on TikTok according to its own year-end round-up.

Elsewhere, online and tech-influenced trends could be found under the “What is…?” category in Google’s top U.S. search trends. For example, the meme “Storm Area 51” which grew out of of a viral Facebook joke that turned into a real-world event led many this year to search “What is Area 51?”

No. 2 was “What is a VSCO girl?” referring to the latest teen trend and meme whose name comes from the hipper-than-Instagram photo-editing app, VSCO. The VSCO girl dresses in oversized tees, Birkenstocks, wears her hair in a messy bun, and adorns herself with accessories like scrunchies, Burt’s Bees lip balm, puka shell chokers, and carries around a Hydro Flask water bottle.

Also on the “What is…?” list were “momo” as in the “Momo Challenge,” (an artistic sculpture turned viral hoax) and “What is a boomer?,” referencing the latest teen insult for old people, “OK boomer.” The latter also became a huge TikTok meme.

Various online cultures influenced Google’s top U.S. outfit trends, too, including the No. 1 outfit idea of Egirl, a popular demographic found on TikTok that’s a sort of emo subculture (or perhaps an emo-anime-goth variation), followed by Eboy, Soft girl (another TikTok subculture, this time with a hyper-cute aesthetic), and finally Biker shorts and VSCO girl. (If you don’t know which one you are, don’t worry — there’s a BuzzFeed quiz for that, of course.)

Google’s top trends are mainly a reflection of pop culture for the year, Google did take a longer look back this year with its “Decade in Search” retrospective, where it highlights the music, movies and people who influenced culture over the past 10 years.

The company put together a busy visualization of the decade in music through Year in Search, for example.

It also points to some of the people who trended over the course of the decade, including Justin Bieber, Betty White, Lebron James, as well as long-lasting TV and movie trends, including “Toy Story”, “Iron Man,” and “The Walking Dead.”

The full list of Google’s Global Top Trends, which can be filtered by country, is here.

The slow death of Flash continues as Google begins to remove it from search

The death of Flash has been a long time coming… and a long time going on, too. For years we’ve heard that it’s on its way out, but who among us has not found an errant Flash video or widget in the last month or two? To hasten its demise Google is taking the understandable step of… pretending it doesn’t exist.

Yes, Google Search will stop indexing Flash content starting later this year. Why was it even doing so today, years after any sane webmaster stopped using it? Well, there’s a lot of legacy content out there. Probably Google wanted to give the long tail a chance to curl up.

Deindexing Flash doesn’t mean if you have website that serves it, it’ll be ignored entirely. But any information accessed through that Flash container, like a storefront, video description, game, or what have you will be skipped over by Google’s crawlers.

And if we’re honest, you’ll probably get demoted pretty hard by the algorithm too.

Most people probably won’t notice any change, partly because Flash-serving websites aren’t often very high on the list anyway, and of course the major browsers all block Flash by default. Even Adobe is giving it up.

If you want to play some of those old Flash games, and really some of them were pretty awesome, you’ll still be able to find them if you search directly for them — there are sites collecting them that will want to show up for Google and as such will work to appear prominently in search results for things like “cool old flash games” and the like.

So is Flash dead now? Probably not, but I wouldn’t call what it’s doing living, either. Still, I imagine we’ll get a few more uses out of that top image.

Google starts highlighting key moments from videos in Search

Google today announced an update to how it handles videos in search results. Instead of just listing relevant videos on the search results page, Google will now also highlight the most relevant parts of longer videos, based on timestamps provided by the video creators. That’s especially useful for how-to videos or documentaries.

“Videos aren’t skimmable like text, meaning it can be easy to overlook video content altogether,” Google Search product manager Prashant Baheti writes in today’s announcement. “Now, just like we’ve worked to make other types of information more easily accessible, we’re developing new ways to understand and organize video content in Search to make it more useful for you.”

In the search results, you will then be able to see direct links to the different parts of a video and a click on those will take you right into that part of the video.

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To make this work, content creators first have to mark up their videos with bookmarks for the specific segments they want to highlight, no matter what platform they are on. Indeed, it’s worth stressing that this isn’t just a feature for YouTube creators. Google says it’s already working with video publishers like CBS Sports and NDTV, who will soon start marking up their videos.

I’m somewhat surprised that Google isn’t using its machine learning wizardry to mark up videos automatically. For now, the burden is on the video creator and given how much work simply creating a good video is, it remains to be seen how many of them will do so. On the other hand, though, it’ll give them a chance to highlight their work more prominently on Google Search, though Google doesn’t say whether the markup will have any influence on a video’s ranking on its search results pages.

Google’s new feature will help you find something to watch

Google Search can now help you find your next binge. The company this morning announced a new feature which will make personalized recommendations of what to watch, including both TV shows and movies, and point you to services where the content is available.

The feature is an expansion of Google’s existing efforts in pointing web searchers to informative content about TV shows and films.

Already, a Google search for a TV show or movie title will include a “Knowledge Panel” box a the the top of the search results where you can read the overview, see the ratings and reviews, check out the cast, and as of spring 2017 find services where the show or movie can be streamed or purchased.

The new recommendations feature will instead appear to searchers who don’t have a particular title in mind, but are rather typing in queries like “what to watch” or “good shows to watch,” for example. From here, you can tap a Start button in the “Top picks for you” carousel to rate your favorite TV shows and movies in order to help Google better understand your tastes.

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You can also select which subscriptions you have access to, in order to customize your recommendations further. This includes subscriptions services like Netflix, Hulu, HBO GO and HBO NOW, Prime Video, Showtime, and Showtime Anytime, CBS All Access, and Starz.

You can also indicate if you have a cable TV or satellite subscription. And it will list shows and movies available for rent, purchase or free streaming from online marketplaces like iTunes, Prime Video, Google Play Movies & TV, and Vudu, plus network apps like ABC, Freeform, Lifetime, CBS, Comedy Central, A&E, and History.

To get started, you’ll use a Tinder-like swiping mechanism to rate titles. Right swipes indicate a “like” and left swipes indicate a “dislike.” You can also “skip” titles you don’t know or have an opinion on.

After giving Google some starter data about your interests, future searches for things to watch will offer recommendations tailored to you.

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The company notes that you can even get specific with your requests, by asking for things like “horror movies from the 80’s” or “adventure documentaries about climbing.” (This will help, too, when you can’t remember a movie’s title but do know what it’s about.)

Google’s search results will return a list of suggestions and when you pick one you want to watch, the service will — as before — let you know where it’s available.

The company already has a good understanding of consumer interest in movies and TV thanks to its data on popular searches. Now it aims to have a good understanding of what individual users may want to watch, as well.

The new recommendations feature is live today on mobile for users in the U.S.

 

How Zhihu’s become one of China’s biggest hubs for experts

Zhihu may not be as well known outside of China as WeChat or ByteDance’s Douyin, but over the past eight years, it has cultivated a reputation for being one of the country’s most trustworthy social media platforms. Originally launched as a question-and-answer site similar to Quora, Zhihu has grown to be a central hub for professional knowledge, allowing users to interact with experts and companies in a wide range of industries.

Headquartered in Beijing, Zhihu recently raised a $434 million Series F, its biggest round since 2011. The funding also brought Zhihu two important new partners: video and live-streaming app Beijing Kuaishou, which led the round, and Baidu, owner of China’s largest search engine (other participants in the round included Tencent and CapitalToday).

Launched in 2011, Zhihu (the name means “do you know”) is most frequently compared to Quora and Yahoo Answers. While it resembled those Q&A platforms at first, it has grown in scope. Now it would be more accurate to say that the platform is like a combination of Quora, LinkedIn and Medium’s subscription program.

For example, Zhihu has an invitation-only blogging platform for verified experts and since launching official accounts, it has become a channel for companies and organizations to communicate with users. A representative for Zhihu told TechCrunch that the platform had 220 million users and 30,000 official accounts as of January 2019 (for context, there are currently about 800 million Internet users in China), who have posted a total of 130 million answers so far.

The company’s growth will be closely watched since Zhihu is reportedly preparing for an initial public offering. Last November, the company hired its first chief financial officer, Sun Wei, heightening speculation. A representative for the company told TechCrunch the position was created because of Zhihu’s business development needs and that there is currently no timeline for a public listing.

At the same time, the company has also dealt with reports that its growth has slowed.

Without evidence, Trump accuses Google of manipulating millions of votes

The president this morning lashed out at Google on Twitter, accusing the company of manipulating millions of votes in the 2016 election to sway it toward Hillary Clinton. The authority on which he bases this serious accusation, however, is little more than supposition in an old paper reheated by months-old congressional testimony.

Trump’s tweet this morning actually cited no paper at all, in fact, though he did tag conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch, perhaps asking them to investigate. It’s also unclear who he thinks should sue the company.

Coincidentally, Fox News had just mentioned the existence of such a report about five minutes earlier. Trump has also recently criticized Google and CEO Sundar Pichai over a variety of perceived slights.

In fact, the report was not “just issued,” and does not say what the president suggests it did. What both Fox and Trump appear to be referring to is a paper published in 2017 that described what the authors say was a bias in Google and other search engines during the run-up to the 2016 election.

If you’re wondering why you haven’t heard about this particular study, I can tell you why — it’s a very bad study. Its contents do not amount to anything, let alone evidence by which to accuse a major company of election interference.

The authors looked at search results for 95 people over the 25 days preceding the election and evaluated the first page for bias. They claim to have found that based on “crowdsourced” determinations of bias, the process for which is not described, that most search results, especially on Google, tended to be biased in favor of Clinton.

No data on these searches, such as a sample search and results and how they were determined to be biased, is provided. There’s no discussion of the fact, for example, that Google routinely and openly tailors search results based on a person’s previous searches, stated preferences, location and so on.

In fact, Epstein’s “report” lacks all the qualifications of any ordinary research paper.

There is no abstract or introduction, no methods section to show the statistics work and definitions of terms, no discussion, no references. Without this basic information the document is not only incapable of being reviewed by peers or experts, but is indistinguishable from completely invented suppositions. Nothing in this paper can be in any way verified.

Robert Epstein freely references himself, however: a single 2015 paper in PNAS on how search results could be deliberately manipulated to affect a voter looking for information on candidates, and the many, many opinion pieces he has written on the subject, frequently on far-right outlets the Epoch Times and Daily Caller, but also non-partisan ones like USA Today and Bloomberg Businessweek.

The numbers advanced in the study are completely without merit. Citing math he does not describe, Epstein says that “a pro-Clinton bias in Google’s search results would over time, shift at least 2.6 million votes to Clinton.” No mechanism or justification for this assertion is provided, except a highly theoretical one based on ideas and assumptions from his 2015 study, which had little in common with this one. The numbers are, essentially, made up.

In other words, this so-called report is nothing of the kind — a nonfactual document written with no scientific justification of its claims written by someone who publishes anti-Google editorials almost monthly. It was not published in a journal of any kind, simply put online at a private nonprofit research agency called the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology, where Epstein is on staff and which appears to exist almost solely to promote his work — such as it is.

(In response to my inquiry, AIBRT said that it is not legally bound to reveal its donors and chooses not to, but stated that it does not accept “gifts that might cause the organization to bias its research projects in any way.”)

Lastly, in his paper, Epstein speculates that Google may have been manipulating the data they were collecting for the report, citing differences between data from Gmail users and non-users, choosing to throw away all the former while still reporting of it:

As you can see, the search results seen by non-gmail users were far more biased than the results seen by gmail users. Perhaps Google identified our confidants through its gmail system and targeted them to receive unbiased results; we have no way to confirm this at present, but it is a plausible explanation for the pattern of results we found.

I leave it to the reader to judge the plausibility of this assertion.

If that were all, it would be more than enough. But Trump’s citation of this flimsy paper doesn’t even get the facts right. His assertion was that “Google manipulated from 2.6 million to 16 million votes for Hillary Clinton in 2016 Election,” and the report doesn’t even state that.

The source for this false claim appears to be Epstein’s recent appearance in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee in July. Here he received star treatment from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who asked him to share his expert opinion on the possibility of tech manipulation of voting. Cruz’s previous expert for this purpose was conservative radio talk show host Dennis Prager.

Again citing no data, studies or mechanisms whatsoever, Epstein described 2.6 million as a “rock-bottom minimum” of votes that Google, Facebook, Twitter and others could have affected (he does not say did affected, or attempted to affect). He also says that in subsequent elections, specifically in 2020, “if all these companies are supporting the same candidate, there are 15 million votes on the line that can be shifted without people’s knowledge and without leaving a paper trail for authorities to trace.”

“The methods they are using are invisible, they’re subliminal, they’re more powerful than most any effects I’ve seen in the behavioral sciences,” Epstein said, but did not actually describe what the techniques are. Though he did suggest that Mark Zuckerberg could send out a “get out the vote” notification only to Democrats and no one would ever know — absurd.

In other words, the numbers are not only invented, but unrelated to the 2016 election, and inclusive of all tech companies, not just Google. Even if Epstein’s claims were anywhere near justifiable, Trump’s tweet mischaracterizes them and gets everything wrong. Nothing about any of this is anywhere close to correct.

Google issued a statement addressing the president’s accusation, saying, “This researcher’s inaccurate claim has been debunked since it was made in 2016. As we stated then, we have never re-ranked or altered search results to manipulate political sentiment.”

You can read the full “report” below:

EPSTEIN & ROBERTSON 2017-A Method for Detecting Bias in Search Rankings-AIBRT by TechCrunch on Scribd

Lucidworks raises $100M to expand in AI-powered search-as-a-service for organizations

If the sheer amount of information that we can tap into using the internet has made the world our oyster, then the huge success of Google is a testament to how lucrative search can be in helping to light the way through that data maze.

Now, in a sign of the times, a startup called Lucidworks, which has built an AI-based engine to help individual organizations provide personalised search services for their own users, has raised $100 million in funding. Lucidworks believes its approach can produce better and more relevant results than other search services in the market, and it plans to use the funding for its next stage of growth to become, in the words of CEO Will Hayes, “the world’s next important platform.”

The funding is coming from PE firm Francisco Partners​ and ​TPG Sixth Street Partners​. Existing investors in the company include Top Tier Capital Partners, Shasta Ventures, Granite Ventures and Allegis Cyber.

Lucidworks has raised around $200 million in funding to date, and while it is not disclosing the valuation, the company says it been doubling revenues each year for the last three and counts companies like Reddit, Red Hat, REI, the US Census among some 400 others among its customers using its flagship product, Fusion. PitchBook notes that its last round in 2018 was at a modest $135 million, and my guess is that is up by quite some way.

The idea of building a business on search, of course, is not at all new, and Lucidworks works in a very crowded field. The likes of Amazon, Google and Microsoft have built entire empires on search — in Google’s and Microsoft’s case, by selling ads against those search results; in Amazon’s case, by generating sales of items in the search results — and they have subsequently productised that technology, selling it as a service to others.

Alongside that are companies that have been building search-as-a-service from the ground up — like Elastic, Sumo Logic and Splunk (whose founding team, coincidentally, went on to found Lucidworks…) — both for back-office processes as well as for services that are customer-facing.

In an interview, Hayes said that what sets Lucidworks apart is how it uses machine learning and other AI processes to personalise those results after “sorting through mountains of data”, to provide enterprise information to knowledge workers, shopping results on an e-commerce site to consumers, data to wealth managers, or whatever it is that is being sought.

Take the case of a shopping experience, he said by way of explanation. “If I’m on REI to buy hiking shoes, I don’t just want to see the highest-rated hiking shoes, or the most expensive,” he said.

The idea is that Lucidworks builds algorithms that bring in other data sources — your past shopping patterns, your location, what kind of walking you might be doing, what other people like you have purchased — to produce a more focused list of products that you are more likely to buy.

“Amazon has no taste,” he concluded, a little playfully.

Today, around half of Lucidworks’ business comes from digital commerce and digital content — searches of the kind described above for products, or monitoring customer search queries sites like RedHat or Reddit — and half comes from knowledge worker applications inside organizations.

The plan will be to continue that proportion, while also adding in other kinds of features — more natural language processing and more semantic search features — to expand the kinds of queries that can be made, and also cues that Fusion can use to produce results.

Interestingly, Hayes said that while it’s come up a number of times, Lucidworks doesn’t see itself ever going head-to-head with a company like Google or Amazon in providing a first-party search platform of its own. Indeed, that may be an area that has, for the time being at least, already been played out. Or it may be that we have turned to a time when walled gardens — or at least more targeted and curated experiences — are coming into their own.

“We still see a lot of runway in this market,” said Jonathan Murphy of Francisco Partners. “We were very attracted to the idea of next-generation search, on one hand serving internet users facing the pain of the broader internet, and on the other enterprises as an enterprise software product.” 

Lucidworks, it seems, has also entertained acquisition approaches, although Hayes declined to get specific about that. The longer-term goal, he said, “is to build something special that will stay here for a long time. The likelihood of needing that to be a public company is very high, but we will do what we think is best for the company and investors in the long run. But our focus and intention is to continue growing.”

ByteDance launches a new search portal that returns a mix of results from the Web and its own platforms

ByteDance has taken another step into search with the launch of a new search portal today. Called Toutiao Search, the portal is part of the website for Toutiao, the news aggregator owned by ByteDance, and currently optimized only for mobile.

Though it is part of Toutiao’s website, the portal is separate from the Toutiao’s own search function, which lets users look for news articles and topics within the app. Toutiao Search brings up results from the Web, but like other search engines in China, the results are censored. For example, a search for “Hong Kong,” where large pro-democracy demonstrations are currently taking place, show only results from state-approved media outlets or ByteDance’s own services, like Xigua Video, Douyin (its domestic version of TikTok) or Toutiao.

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Searches for less contentious topics like “restaurant” also return a similar mix of web results and media from ByteDance apps. This means the company’s entrance into the search business not only sets it up as a new competitor to Baidu, which currently holds 76% of the search engine market, Sogou, Bing and 360, but will also help ByteDance drive traffic to all of its platforms. Google’s efforts to re-enter the Chinese market stalled when employees protested against the development of a censored search engine last year.

TechCrunch’s Rita Liao reported earlier this month that ByteDance, currently the most highly-valued tech startup in the world, has already hired people from other search companies, including Google, Baidu, Bing and 360. A recruiting post published earlier this month on ByteDance’s WeChat account was the company’s first public announcement that it is building a “universal search engine.”

TechCrunch has contacted ByteDance for more information about the new search portal.