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Google Search now powered by a Hummingbird

Google celebrates its 15th anniversary by announcing that it's changed its underlying search algorithm -- again.


MENLO PARK, Calif. -- Google kicked off its 15th anniversary a day early by once more invading its original headquarters in Susan Wojcicki's former garage at 232 Santa Margarita Ave. Along with a hearty pat on the back, the company revealed that it's changed the engine that drives its queries.

The new engine, called Hummingbird, is the first change to Google's core algorithm since the launch of Caffeine in 2010. Hummingbird, said Amit Singhal, Google senior vice president and one of its earliest employees, affects 90 percent of searches with Google worldwide.

"When I joined Google, people would be amazed when a simple query for a Web site would work. As they became more comfortable, they began to ask more complex questions. Hummingbird," he said, "is the result of that foundational rethink."

Singhal was careful to note that while page ranking and indexing are bound together in a search engine, Caffeine focused more on the ranking side of the algorithm. Hummingbird is more about indexing.

"Hummingbird gave us an opportunity after years of building to rethink how we use the power of these things," he said, referring to Google Search features old and new. He had previously noted that as Google has added features to the search engine such as autocomplete, synonym recognition, voice recognition, precaching, universal search, and contextual recognition, searching itself has gotten easier.

Google may not be afraid to examine its engineering of search, but Wocjicki, who's now a senior vice president of marketing at Google, said that the company's central values haven't changed.

She reiterated what she called the company's three commitments. Google, she explained, has always been focused on building great search for its users, on reaching a global audience, and on what she called "thinking big."

"When we were here and a small, tiny company, we were thinking big. It's just that not as many people were listening," she said. "Today, we're looking at projects like Glass, or Loon for access, or driverless cars."

Wocjicki recalled how even when Google only had seven employees, there was a whiteboard in the back room that read, "Google Worldwide Headquarters."

"Even though a lot of things are different with Google, the core is really the same," she said.