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Google revamps search engine with Discover news feed and activity cards

The internet giant made the announcements during an event to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Google search.

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Google head of search Ben Gomes announced new features for the company's search engine.

James Martin/CNET

Google on Monday announced new features for its iconic search engine, which turns 20 years old this week. 

The goal is to help people as they do longer-term searches, like planning trips, seeking health advice and making employment choices -- things that won't be answered necessarily by one search query.

One new feature is called an "activity cards," which will show up in your search results if you've done repeat searches on one topic. For example, if you're planning a camping trip, your activity card will show past searches, related searches and other content suggestions. Another new feature called "collections" lets you save past searches. 

Google is also adding a news feed called "Discover" to its mobile browser that'll bring up content you might be interested in -- without you having to type in a query. It'll surface things like articles about restaurants or your favorite sports teams. 

The company is also revamping Google Images, its search engine specifically for photos, with new ranking algorithms and a redesigned look. The search giant is also bringing its Google Lens tool, which lets people find more information about objects in photos, to Google Images. For example, if you see a crib in an Image search, you'll be able to tap on it to see buying information or reviews.

Google also said it's putting a bigger investment in its "Stories" feature for search, similar to the strings of videos and pictures people post on Instagram and Snapchat. Previously, Google was working just with publishers to create stories for its AMP format for mobile devices. Now, Google will also use artificial intelligence to create Stories about notable people in Google search, with facts and information about them.

The company says the changes are aimed at evolving search as people change the way they look for stuff online.

"Search is not perfect. And we're under no illusion it is," Ben Gomes, Google's head of search, said during an event in San Francisco. "But you have our commitment we'll make it better every day."

Controversies abound 

The 20th anniversary milestone comes as Google's search engine has come under intense scrutiny. Last week, The Wall Street Journal reported that Google employees had considered tweaking the search engine to surface pro-immigration content after President Donald Trump's travel ban last year that barred immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries. 

In response, Google CEO Sundar Pichai reportedly told employees in a memo, "Recent news stories reference an internal email to suggest that we would compromise the integrity of our Search results for a political end. This is absolutely false."

Much of the strongest pushback against Google has come from Washington, DC. Last month, Trump accused Google of political bias. He tweeted that Google's search results are "RIGGED," saying the company is "suppressing voices of Conservatives."

"I think Google has really taken advantage of a lot of people," he told reporters later that day. "Google and Twitter and Facebook, they're really treading on very, very troubled territory, and they have to be careful."

Google has also been accused of using its search engine to promote liberal politics. Last month, Trump tweeted a video claiming Google promoted former President Barack Obama's State of the Union addresses every January but not his. Trump added the hashtag #StopTheBias.

Google denied the accusation, saying the search engine's homepage did indeed promote Trump's address this past January. Google said it didn't promote either Trump's or Obama's address from their first year in office because those speeches aren't technically considered State of the Union addresses. (A screenshot from the Internet Archive, which keeps a record of what appears on web domains backed up Google's explanation.)

On Monday, Google also announced search features aimed at helping local communities. For example, it's starting a pilot program in India to bring emergency flood information to search. The company also unveiled a service called Pathways, which gives job seekers information on local training programs. 

First published Sept. 24, 10:35 a.m. PT.
Updated, 11:04 a.m. PT: Adds information throughout; Update, 11:21 a.m.: Adds information on new Google programs.

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