MOUNTAIN VIEW, California: In what could be the greatest stride forward since January 1996 when Stanford University students Sergey Brin and Larry Page first embarked on their 'BackRub' research project, its progeny, Google, on Wednesday unveiled Universal Search - a major development offering an integrated and comprehensive way to search for information online.

As of yesterday, Google started to incorporate information from a variety of previously separate sources - among them videos, images, news, maps, books, and websites - into a single set of results.

The company warned that universal search results may at first appear to be subtle. However, over time users will recognize additional types of content integrated into their search results as the company moves toward delivering "a truly comprehensive search experience".

Says Google's vp of search products and user experience Marissa Mayer: "The ultimate goal of universal search is to break down the silos of information that exist on the web and provide the very best answer every time a user enters a query. While we still have a long way to go, today's announcements are a big step in that direction."

She cited as an example a quest for information on Star Wars character Darth Vader. A searcher is likely to be interested in all the information related to the character and the actor - not just web pages that mention the movie.

Universal Search will deliver a single set of blended search results that include a humorous parody of the movie, images of the Darth Vader character, news reports on the latest George Lucas film, as well as websites focused on the actor James Earl Jones - all ranked in order of relevance to the query.

One attendee at the unveiling, search analyst and blogger Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land, described Google's latest gizmo as "the most radical change to its search results ever".

Continued his blog: "The move potentially should be a huge boon for searchers, while search marketers who have paid attention to the importance of specialised or vertical search will see new opportunities."

Data sourced from multiple origins; additional content by WARC staff