Google announced a number of changes to its flagship product Search earlier this week, debuting them in the form of improvements meant to make data easier to discover. While everyone can benefit from the move, the newly announced tweaks have been specifically designed to support data journalism. Top data journalists on the planet provided Google with feedback that the company used as the basis for the service revamp, with the most visible change being the manner in which Search handles tabular information. The world's most popular Internet search engine is now capable of generating simplistic tables in an effort to quickly answer user queries seeking data sets.
For the time being, the functionality is largely reliant on the media industry's willingness to cooperate with the tech giant; outlets that publish data tables are asked to better define them using extra structured data so as to help Google's crawlers identify the contents of their pages more accurately and ultimately have Search generate better results when asked for such information. The screenshot below is an illustrative example of how the engine is now handling data queries compared to how it did before. The volume of data points available on the results page is still limited, presumably so as to ensure queries continue driving traffic to their sources. Google has been testing the new method of displaying data sets with a number of partners over the last several months, the company said, naming investigative non-profit ProPublica as one of them.
Media outlets seeking to better describe their tables to Google's web crawlers can add the necessary structured data directly to the HTML source of their pages, meaning they're still in full control of the manner in which such information is presented to readers. The method is relatively straightforward but may eventually be replaced with a more automated solution based on artificial intelligence, as indicated by the AI-first product strategy Google has been pursuing for several years now.