Live: Google Health Launches At Factory Tour of Search

Update: Check out our first thoughts on Google Health.

Google has invited the press to its headquarters in Mountain View today for some presentations on a variety of search-related projects.

The so-called “Factory Tour of Search” event will proceed until about 1pm PT today. The agenda (shown in full at the bottom of this post) includes overview presentations about Google’s various search properties, its local search services, and search quality. Later on we will also hear more about Google Health and have a chance for some Q&A and expert roundtables.

Check back here throughout the morning for my live notes from the event.



The event is about to start. There are representatives here from Cleveland Clinic, Harvard Medical School, MedCo, Quest, Walgreens, CVS, Longs, RxAmerica and more. I hear that Google Health will actually launch today in a couple hours. This comes after expectations of it launching this past January (and in February, and in May 2006 for that matter). Update: The Google Health sign in screen is live here already.

I don’t expect we’ll hear many more details about this launch until later in the program, given how the agenda is laid out.

9:50am: Event has finally begun. They’re beginning with a general overview of Google’s search properties. R.J Pittman on stage talking about the breadth of search, and three properties in particular, starting with Image Search.

Over 300 million digital photos taken every day, 100 billion per year, over half a trillion images in circulation by 2009. Wants to see Google have over 1 trillion images to search from one day.

9:55am: More users turning to image search than ever before. Today hundreds of millions of image searches per day. Important to help users navigate, so innovation is hugely important.

Likeness of an image is a difficult thing to figure out but possible with Google’s image similarity technology today. Google also has some of the first and best tech for object recognition. Adding this tech will be increasingly important with more photos online. People also like to search for people, so facial recognition important as well. Working to make tech for facial recognition one click away, so you can distinguish between, say, Delorean the inventor and the car.

9:57am: Gigapan project meant to handle big image sizes. Also working on geo-tagging and location-based imagery.

People using image search for more than just looking for pretty pictures. It’s being used for recipe hunting, travel planning, diagnosing health, shopping, etc. Relevance of commerce-related activity to imagery is increasing.

10:00am: Google has experimented with ads around images but have had to struggle with how to do it right, since it’s not easy. Announcing today a new suite of image related experiments. Pairing images with images — display ads with image search.

Examples show sponsored image results with AdSense-like descriptions, displayed along the top and on the right. Doesn’t appear to be launching publicly anytime soon, Google will “keep us posted” on how these experiments go.

10:03am: Now on to Google News. The “story cluster” is very important to the organization and display of info.

Local news is a hard problem to solve. Goes beyond zip code or city name. The way we are approaching this is quite novel; leveraging power of clusters to aggregate articles and reaffirm approximations.

10:05am: Quote search is possible on Google News to find quotes from particular people in news articles. Working to leverage clusters for quote search as well to improve its accuracy.

10:06am: Google Finance launched about a year and a half ago, simple and powerful stock market tool. Led that introduction with powerful visualization tool; important because goal is to help all users navigate complexities of market.

10:07am: Another key element of Google Finance is internationalization. Launched first in just the US but now have a global platform so that it can expand into other markets including China, UK, and Canada. In many ways just getting started with Finance.

Bringing up Michael Cohen from Google Labs for a little mock Q&A.

10:10am: Cohen: We have some “fifth year seniors” but also many who have graduated to official products. Talking about Experimental Search to start. You can bolt on search functionality to regular search.

Google Trends – vision is to allow users to understand market trends, see what people are searching for on Google. “Shorts and sweaters” example shows how query volume fluctuates by season, “spiderman batman and superman” example shows how people respond to movie releases.

Pittman suggests that this sort of analysis can be applied to Google Finance to help people understand fluctuations in the market (hints at an upcoming product along these lines).

10:14am: Pittman wrapping his talk up, inviting Marissa Mayer back on stage.

Mayer: Google Maps a “big home run” for Google. Inviting Carter Masian on stage to talk about Maps.

Masian talks about “building a map that contains the world’s information”; Covering three things: why that’s hard, the state-of-the-art, and the newest innovative work.

10:17am: Why it’s hard: Masian discusses the issues surrounding the identification of places, including international complexities. Not always clear what people are trying to find (“New York NY” that city or the hotel in Las Vegas, for example).

There’s a need to collect local information from local sources — the long tail of geographic content. Need ways to gather information from locals. Go to to see additions being made to Google Maps in real-time.

10:23am: Talking about how you can use Street View to see what turn-by-turn directions actually look like. Also discussing coordinated efforts to map and annotate all features globally (reminds me of Earthmine). We “have the base canvas” – now how do we enable people to “annotate that canvas”. Annotations include tourist destinations, transit maps, etc.

Over 350m unique user activations, over 50m unique maps/earth users per month. Annotation has exploded over past year alone (shows map that highlights areas that have been annotated).

10:29am: Continuing discussion of the different ways Google Maps has been annotated for particular uses. Shows how images can be integrated into maps from sources like Panoramio.

10:31am: There are lots of hard queries, some we handle well (“beachfront hotels los angeles”, “soccer field burlingame”) but others need work (“marin headlands hiking”, “kansas state”). Sometimes a little too literal with search queries, as with “kansas state”.

10:34am: Even as we tackle these query problems, there will be a whole other set of problems when street view comes into play. Such as, how do you search farmers’ markets, parking restrictions, opening hours for stores, etc.

10:36: Masian wraps up his talk, Mayer introduces presentation on universal web search by Johanna Wright.

Wright starts off by talking about how Google guesses what users actually mean, even when they spell things wrong or don’t know exactly how to structure their search.

Universal Search – effort to bring all types of search results onto same page (whether webpages, pictures, videos, news, books, etc). In 2007, launched universal search for videos, maps, news, books, and images. Have added products and blogs since then.

Three challenges to universal search: infrastucture, ranking, and user interface.

10:40am: Universal search takes much more computational power than simple web search (has to retrieve from multiple sources). Questions about how you compare books to blog posts, images to videos, etc. Have been working to launch universal search worldwide, available now to users around the globe.

10:42am: This year added review content to local search results, blog results to universal search, and improvements to video results. Crawler has also been improved to surface video hosted on non-Google sites better.

Biggest improvements have been made in image and video results in universal search; now showing more results for lesser-known photographers and video producers.

10:47am: Trystan Upstill invited on stage to talk about the internationalization of search.

If you search for “tax” in the US, the results should be much different than when you search for “tax” in the UK or Australia. Different resources show up to help people deal with taxes.

Country localization vs. language localization. Concerned not only about readability across languages but watchability as well, for when it comes to video. Want to show English videos about Enrique Iglesias, for example, even in a Russian search.

10:53am: Cross-language search results help non-English speakers find good information that’s only available in English.

11:00am: Pandu Nayak on stage talking about various ways in which Google needs to determine what users actually want to find with their queries. Lots of examples of how queries can be confusing.

11:22am: After a brief break, it’s time for Google Health. Mayer back on stage, recapping the presentations thus far.

11:28am: “Future of Search” – we imagine search in future will be experienced through many modes (cell phones, cars, etc). More modes means more complexity (search when people are moving has different dimensions).

Element of personalization – know a little more about you, build that data into the search engine.

11:30am: Google Health takes users’ medical records and brings them online. They can see them, control them, put them to good use. Not an easy initiative but makes sense for Google to take this initiative on (lots of people start with search when concerned about health).

You’ve heard about health from us for a long time, almost a year. Today it’s no more than just talk, we actually have a product. Can sign up today, is open to the public.

Going to get a demonstration about Google Health now with a pretend user “Diana”.

You can add conditions, medications, allergies, procedures, test results, and immunizations to your profile.

Can import health records from Walgreens and other partners (full list here).

Health reference pages available for topics like “Chickenpox” that shows overview info, symptoms, images, etc.

Privacy – user chooses who has access to records, can revoke access to anyone at anytime. Google will not share records with anyone unless asked to do so by the user.

You can connect certain applications to your profile, like a Heart Attack Risk Calculator, that will take info from your profile and tell you something about it (in this case, your risk for a heart attack). This obviates the need to reenter your information everywhere.

Also a virtual “pill box” that will alert you when it’s time to take a pill, immunization dashboard that reminds you to take meds, and app for converting paper-based records into Google Health.

11:39am: Chief Medical Officer from Quest Diagnostics brought on stage to talk about partnership. Calls this a “pivotal moment” in health care, and a “powerful new channel”. Personal health records provide information about wellness and help with diagnosis; laboratory data is an essential part of these records. Talks a bit about what Quest Diagnostics does, no specifics on just how Google Health and Quest will work together, but will somehow help with “collaboration” between patients, doctors, and labs. Mayer says you’ll be able to get your lab results online (that appears to be the main result of the partnership).

11:45am: Walgreen’s pharmacist on stage talking about how Google Health will help with drug interaction checks.

Full list of partners on screen: Walgreens, Quest Diagnostics, Cleveland Clinic, RX America, CVS, Longs Drugs, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, American Heart Association, AllScripts, SafeMed, Medem, HealthGrades, eRx, Live Strong, MyCareTeam, My Daily Apple, Lifestar, Your Health, Solventus, HX Technologies, MyMedicalSummary, MyMedicalRecords,, and MediConnect Global.

11:50am: Mayer asks who has actually held their medical record, says that users should be in control of them.

Announces “Walk for Good” campaign in conjunction with Cleveland Clinic. Google Gadget encourages users to walk by helping them keep track of how much they’ve walked. Google will give money to charity as a result of the campaign.

11:54am: Cleveland Clinic on stage talking about importance of Google Health…and physical activity.

11:57am: Q&A

Google doesn’t do exclusive partnerships, in talks with local and national partners. If you are a patient and want someone to have access to your records, you should encourage them to use Google Health. No concrete details on what types of partnerships Google has made with insurance companies and local health providers.

You can import doctors into your Gmail contacts list from Google Health after you find them through search. No user will ever find their health information in search results on Google.

70% of health care costs are related to chronic diseases, which are only preventable by patients themselves. Hence the user focus of Google Health. These remarks were made in response to a suggestion that doctors should actually be controlling patient info on Google Health.

Mayer: this is about convenience and cost-reduction. Seems gear mostly towards helping patients help themselves, rather than helping doctors help patients.

12:03am: This is not advertising supported. When asked about how Google will make money, Mayer says this is about organization the world’s information (non-answer). Also “this is about the user” (also non-answer). But another panelist says Google search will be on every page (semi-answer).

Going to have an API for integrating more functionality into Google Health. All these integrations will go through Google (wouldn’t expect to see an iGoogle-like platform here; data too sensitive). Although programming interface is public.

12:05am: “We’re a surprisingly small team”

Mayer reemphasizes the control users have over their data when asked about how Google will respond to for-profit companies’ attempts to access the data.

This is a US launch but Google looks forward to expanding internationally. Nothing specific to announce at this time with regards to global plans.

When asked about how Google differentiates itself from other electronic record systems, Google says it’s happy that many people are looking at this area; says it’s just beginning. Only a few percent of people in the US actually use these services, so obviously there is room for improvement. No answer or mention of the other systems in particular (basically avoids talking about competition).

When asked about the legal responsibility Google has over users’ data, and the prospect of this data getting hacked and changed, Google says it labels just who and how information has been changed. It has also put in place different authorization levels that prevents certain people from changing certain things.

About data storage: Google stores a copy of your records when obtained from other sources (such as pharmacists or hospitals). When you share data from Google Health, you give others the ability to make their own copy. You can give clinics and other organizations the right to regularly pull data from your account, if desired.

When asked about security, Mayer says it uses its “highest level of security”; have implementing a special infrastructure for this. Security and privacy has been Google’s biggest concern, they say.

12:18pm: Q&A over, that pretty much wraps up the event.

Full Agenda

Welcome Marissa Mayer, VP, Search Products & User Experience
Search Properties Overview R.J. Pittman, Director of Product Management
Michael Cohen, Product Manager
Local Search Overview Carter Maslan, Director of Product Management
Search Quality Overview Johanna Wright, Director of Product Management
Trystan Upstill, Software Engineer
Pandu Nayak, Member of Technical Staff
Google Health Update Marissa Mayer, VP, Search Products & User Experience
Q&A Speakers & Guests
Lunch Product Demonstrations
Search Expert Roundtables: Search R&D, Book Search, Search User Experience, Google Health, Search Properties, Universal Search, Local Search