Chinatown in San Francisco

When you search, you’re not just looking for a webpage. You’re looking to get answers, understand or explore.Google

This statement from Google is clear. Its mission is changing. Search is developing in a way that means it is no longer about being pointed in the right direction for an answer, but more about providing that answer as soon as the question is asked.

The addition of the knowledge graph is the perfect example of this, with Google offering up key stats and information on specific searches enabling users to find the information they require without the energy sapping click of a mouse through to the ever-reliable Wikipedia.

In this post I am going to take Google’s reference to exploration literally, by attempting to book a holiday without leaving Google. Crazy I know. The point of this however is not to see if I can actually book a holiday, but more to demonstrate the direction that search and consumer behaviour may be heading. Scrap the World Wide Web, this is the Google-Web.

Task 1: Find a destination. Tool = Knowledge Graph Carousel

Google cannot tell you where to go on holiday (yet), however it can tell you what there is to do in a place you would like to visit. This is thanks to a recent extension of the knowledge graph that displays a carousel of search results when a specific query is entered.

For the sake of this experiment I am going to choose San Francisco as my destination (which seems poignant being so near to Palo Alto, Google’s home).

A simple search for ”Things to do in San Francisco” returns a wide range of sites to visit and places to see, including the Golden Gate Bridge (obviously), as well as informing users about events like the 49ers vs. The Seahawks on the 18th of October.

So thanks to Google I now have a destination, as well as a healthy list of things to do!

Task 2: Book flights. Tool = google flight search

Unfortunately this controversial service is not yet available outside of the USA, however Google Flight Search enables those looking for flights to find them.

For the purposes of this experiment I am going to claim I live in New York, and I want to fly to San Francisco. By putting in my desired dates and destinations I am presented with a list of results that I can then sort by price, time, number of stops and airline.

Select the cheapest flights and you’re then taken off to the flight carrier’s site to fill in your details and confirm your booking. This tool still needs some work, but it looks like Google’s acquisition of ITA Software is taking it’s first steps under the Google brand, and Google is taking its first steps as a travel agent.

Task 3: Book a Hotel. Tool = Google Hotel Finder

Google Hotel Finder has to be the best of the lot and it is clear to see how it has been designed to work well on tablets and phones, too. The tool gives the users the ability to select the exact area they would like to stay, as well as find hotels by travel time from specific destinations. Smart.

You can shortlist hotels, view photos and get directions – all from this tool.

The reviews come in handy also, and perhaps in the future Google will look to integrate this tool into Google+ with the addition of the +1 button.

You can shortlist hotels, view photos and get directions – all from this tool. This tool more than any so far gives a clear indication that Google are aiming for an online world where people are able to find a hotel, book it, tell their friends about it and then leave a review of their stay all without ever leaving Google.

Task 4: Find my way. Tool = Google Transit & Google Maps.

So far I know where I am going and what to see there, I have booked my flights and hotel and now all I need to do is find where to go when I land. A simple search on Google Transit gives me clear directions on how to get to my hotel from the airport.

The beauty of this tool and its integration with Google maps is that I can save any maps I want for offline use. If I was to do the same task but on my tablet it would enable me to save any maps I might need for my trip but without using up my data at the ridiculous cost that comes with being abroad. Perfect!

So there you have it, an entire booked and planned holiday without (almost) leaving Google!

The development of the Google tools above gives us a clear indication of what ‘search’ and search engines as services are migrating towards. A one stop resource for everything you could possibly want to “answer, understand or explore.”

Why should you have to spend hours searching for the best deals and prices when you can make a supercomputer do it all for you? This way of thinking is only going to develop further and I have no doubt in my mind that in the near future you will be able to order a pizza, pay for your car insurance and do your food shopping all directly from a search engine near you.

Image Source: Shubert Ciencia on Flickr

Going on a Google Holiday by