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 Search Engine Superstar

amit singhal

Amit Singhal, Google Fellow.


Query Master Amit Singhal Delivers

Google Fellow Amit Singhal oversees Google's ranking algorithm. That means, his team decides which documents best match a search query.

Singhal, who received his master's degree in computer science from UMD in 1991, heads up the Search Quality department at Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. He joined Google in 2000 and has received the title Google Fellow, designating him as one of Google's most accomplished engineers. His team is in charge of Google’s secret sauce. They make Google more effective by writing mathematical formulas that decide Google's search ranking. They're also vigilant in deflecting the constant barrage of spam threats.

"People want to know what they should read first," Singhal says. "They really like relevance ranking." Documents are assigned a numerical score based on hundreds of variables. For instance, if a user queries for IBM, should be returned on top, which most users want ahead of other news and information related to IBM. Users also like seeing their query keywords in the "snippets" of search results. Keyword-in-context snippets quickly take the users to their desired information. That's Singhal's goal.

It is Singhal's job to rank sites according to relevance. "Then the real work comes in," Singhal says. "You give me a query, and I give you the top few pages among billions of pages we have indexed. That's where the art of ranking lies. I am part of that aspect of Google." Just ranking those pages is not enough, Google has to figure out how to display these pages to users. "There is lots of interface research at Google," he said. Finally, Google has to do all of this, millions of times a day within milliseconds.

Singhal is diligent about ranking sites because spammers try to secure a spot in the top 10 search results. "There is a tremendous value in ranking highly in Google results," Singhal said. "Traffic from Google is often a key source of visitors for many sites; most of these sites provide a great user experience, but not all." Serious threats, like viruses, are sometimes sent to the user's computer. "We don't want these sites in Google's ranking system," he said. Singhal's team changes algorithms constantly, anticipating and blocking the actions of spammers.

Is there a secret? Not really — Singhal's team simply approaches the problems from every possible vantage point.

In the real world, people understand things differently than computers. The future of search engines is in understanding word meaning. "If a user wants GM cars and they search for "GM," that can also mean genetically modified," says Singhal. This may seem like an easy distinction for human beings, but not for algorithms. "We are working on ways to understand this concept, much like artificial intelligence," he said.

Google researchers are also forging into the realm of video, images and audio information, in order to provide users with surprising and delightful information, making Google and Singhal the masters of query.

Singhal was born in India in the state of Uttar Pradesh. He spent most of his boyhood in the foothills of the Himalayas. He has a B.S. degree in Computer Science from University of Roorkee in India, a M.S. in Computer Science from UMD, and a Ph.D. in Computer Science from Cornell University. He worked at AT&T Labs from 1996-2000. Singhal was inducted into the UMD Academy of Science and Engineering on Friday, Oct. 3, 2009.



Written by Cheryl Reitan, communication major Alicia Stockard, and Donna O'Neill.


UMD home page editor, Cheryl Reitan,
NEW RELEASES, UMD media contact, Susan Latto,, 218-726-8830

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