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Google's index expands and Gmail goes POP

Graeme Wearden and Stephane Olsen

Popular Internet search engine Google has doubled the number of Web pages in its database and given Gmail free POP support

In a posting on the company’s own blog on Wednesday, Bill Coughran, vice-president of engineering, announced that Google’s index now exceeds eight billion pages.

Some critics have claimed in the past that one of Google’s flaws is that a search will return hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of pages, even though a typical Web user won’t look beyond a couple of pages of results.

But Coughran says that people looking for obscure search terms will see a real benefit from this widening of the Google index.

“Comprehensiveness is not the only important factor in evaluating a search engine, but it’s invaluable for queries that only return a few results. For example, now when I search for friends who previously generated only a handful of results, I see double that number,” wrote Coughran.

“These are not just copies of the same pages, but truly diverse results that give more information. The same is true for obscure topics, where you’re now significantly more likely to find relevant and diverse information about the subjects,” Coughran added.

Coughran also said that Google’s army of programmers would keep working on better systems for cataloguing the Web, and to help users search through Google’s indexes.

Since its creation in the mid-1990s, Google has become the dominant player in the search engine market. This position is now being actively targeted by Microsoft, which is launching a version of its own search engine this week.

Chief executive Steve Ballmer told Microsoft shareholders on Tuesday that his company would beat Google’s technology and double its advertising revenue in the next five years.

“We will catch up, we will surpass,” Ballmer said.

Google has also added a new feature to its Gmail service, which is still in beta. It now allows people to download email from any third-party account or forward their Gmail for free using POP (Post Office Protocol) access.

Using the feature, people can send Gmail email to mobile devices, such as a BlackBerry, or to Microsoft Outlook. The company, whose offer of one gigabyte of mail storage prompted rivals to follow suit with added storage, said it does not have any plans to charge for either feature.

Many of Gmail’s rivals, including Yahoo and Microsoft, charge for similar POP access. Yahoo Mail, for example, collects $19.95 for POP email forwarding, among other premium features. It does not charge for POP downloading to Yahoo Mail.

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