Google Instant search - does it change anything or everything?
Google Instant search - does it change anything or everything?
Thursday, 09 September 2010

Google Instant is a new way of searching. It isn't just faster - it transforms search into something interactive and changes the nature of search. Are we ready for guided search and does it change things for the better or for the worse?


Google has just announced a new search facility and it's causing something of a stir.

On the face of it the idea is simple - instant search results. That is, give the user search results as they type in their query. Sound innocent enough but this isn't what Google is providing - it is more sophisticated than you think.


Google has demo-ed realtime search before and it was fun but it didn't really deliver because returning search results based on partially-typed words generally produces nonsense until you get to a complete word. Search as you type just adds to the noise.

Now Google thinks that it has solved the problem - search before you type. The idea is that as you type a search target the system predicts the most likely completions and shows search results for these. In this way Instant search predicts and preempts your search results.

Here are a few of the core features in Google Instant:
  • Dynamic Results - Google dynamically displays relevant search results as you type so you can interact and click through to the web content
  • Predictions - One of the key technologies in Google Instant is that we predict the rest of your query (in light gray text) before you finish typing. See what you need? Stop typing, look down and find what you’re looking for.
  • Scroll to search - Scroll through predictions and see results instantly for each as you arrow down.

Although there are no details of how the system has been implemented, Google claims to have designed new caching systems, an adaptive control on the rate of showing new search results and, of course, the Ajax Javascript needed to update the page in place.

This new way of doing things has no effect on rankings or the results returned but .. .it does have an effect on user behaviour. Most users already see customised search results based on their past browsing habits. Now this is extended to the area of guiding the search. As the user types standard search suggestions are provided which narrow the search to the statistically likely ones and the provision of suggested search results will most likely narrow the search field. In other, plainer, words - users will tend to repeat the stereotypical searches and get back the most common results.

In the jargon this means that "long tail search" is going to be less common and the top Google search results are going to get more exposure at the expense of lower ranking sites. Many sites will also appear in the results of partial searches.

On the other hand the ability of the user to refine a search interactively until they start to see the sort of results they are looking for could actually enhance the long tail search. Also having the partial results of a search target can result in users searching for things that they might not have realised were there to search for. For example, if you start typing a name and notice that there are instant results which mention a court case then perhaps you search more specifically for information on the incident before you complete your intended search.


Guided search is clearly a new world and it's not so much the "instant" aspect of the new facility but the way it interacts with an ongoing search to produce a new search.

Currently Google Instant is being offered to a range of specific geographical areas and browsers - Chrome, Firefox, Safari and IE 8 and  US France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Spain and the U.K. At the moment you have to sign in to your Google account to use Google Instant.

Further Reading

Search: now faster than the speed of type

Failure of the Google Gold Standard



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Last Updated ( Thursday, 09 September 2010 )

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