Google Dissolves Search Group Internally, Now Called "Knowledge"

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Google has seven major product groups. Advertising, Commerce & Local, Mobile (Android), Social, Chrome, YouTube and Search. Search is, of course, Google’s first and most important product. But that group actually no longer exists internally. As of April, when Larry Page took over as CEO of the company, the search group was renamed the “knowledge group” internally.

Google confirms the change. And, they point out, it was actually publicly announced in an SEC filing made on April 11. Nobody seems to have noticed that someone was named the SVP of a Google product group that previously hadn’t existed.

Why the change? That’s a longer story.

Leadership of Google search, like most other Google products, was previously split between Marissa Mayer as product lead and Udi Manber as engineering lead. Late last year Mayer moved over to run Local. Alan Eustace now runs the group, and Manber reports to him. There’s a single leader of the group, and he reports to Page.

Page, say our sources, has for a long while been thinking of search as much more than Google’s original mission to “organize the world‘s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” His goal is about more than organizing that information, though. It’s also about enhancing people’s understanding and facilitating the creation of knowledge.

The problem is, “search” still means “search.” And as Google has expanded that product over the years, first bringing in results from Google’s vertical search engines via Universal Search in 2007, and later via Google Squared, which structures information on the Internet.

And there have been other experiments as well. Google Base, for example, as well as Google Knol.

In fact, look back at this 2007 Google blog post about Knol, where Manber says “The challenge posed to us by Larry, Sergey and Eric was to find a way to help people share their knowledge. This is our main goal.”

These product efforts have generally been led by Manber in the past. And they remain in the search/knowledge group today.

Here’s how Google currently views the group. Remember that previously they split it up between Mayer (product) and Manber (engineering). But today Eustace is the overall lead. Manber reports to Eustace and focuses on finding ways to improve the knowledge out there and to encourage more high quality content creation, whether it’s on Google’s servers (Knol) or not.

Amit Singhal, Manber’s peer, focuses on the more traditional goals of search, such as the recent algorithm changes called Panda targeting content farms.

One way of thinking of this, says a source with knowledge of the group, is this. Singhal does the weeding (removing and pushing down low quality content in search), and Manber is focused on the seeding (encouraging “good stuff” to grow).

This isn’t supposed to be information that helps outsiders understand how Google operates, which is probably why Google made the SEC statement in as few words as possible and didn’t publicize it at all. Instead, it’s to make sure that the team inside Google understands that they aren’t just working on search. It’s not just about organization, it’s about enhancement of knowledge.

Other than confirming the creation of the Knowledge group to supplant the Search group, Google won’t comment on the personnel changes or the subtle shifts in strategy. For now, says one source, all Google wants to do is align everyone internally. When, and if, Google talks about this more publicly is a mystery.