Google Instant Search - Just because we can

Published October 1, 2010

Instant Search has been out and about for a while now, and I can’t see that it’s made my life any better, but I don’t particularly hate it either. I’ve been catching up with some TWiT podcasts, and Leo has talked extensively about why they would choose to implement something like this and what purpose it serves. It’s an interesting subject, because search is so very fundamental to the way I use the web. My brain is incapable of storing information and now with Google, I don’t have to.

First things first, the question of whether anyone actually uses the homepage anymore. I can’t say that I do, but that doesn’t mean I don’t ever get to see Instant Search. I am primarily a Firefox user, although I am dipping more and more into Chrome, and the bars at the top give you all you need to search the web. However, once the initial search comes up, quite often I’ll be refining what I have searched for or moving on to search for something else. I often open the results in new tabs so I am always left with that one Google tab for searching on. I don’t think the introduction of this tool has anything to do with using the homepage or not.

Getting good search results is almost an art form, and I like to think I am pretty good at it. It’s all about key words, and getting your head around what will show up in a search and what won’t. The autocomplete + instant response of the new searching will likely help people to learn better searching, but at the same time I worry it will be limiting. People will fall into searching for the same things. There was a statistic floating around that 20% of searches made by people were brand new to Google. This seems incredibly high, but even if the number is much smaller, I can only think it will continue to shrink if people are being prodded towards pre-populated answers.

There’s also the question of what you are seeing. You start typing, and some words could be misconstrued until you finish the entire thing. Google doesn’t allow any of that nonsense and if it doesn’t like what you’ve typed, or can’t find anything, it will show white until you hit enter. Then you get whatever search results you usually would. How are people going to know to hit Search, when they are being trained that things just instantly appear? The white screen is worrying, too. It makes you feel like you’ve done something wrong, or that maybe even Google is broken. Especially if your search isn’t for anything unusual. There was a big furore about the fact that Irina Slutsky tried searching for herself, and found nothing. Oops. It also brings up the age-old question of who decides which words are bad?

The final point to consider is why Google are doing this in the first place. They will likely get more ads seen because of the repetitive nature of Instant searching, but it’s also likely that the ads won’t be studied quite as hard, and probably won’t get as much screen time as their predecessors. Presumably the constant loading and processing of your query as you type is going to raise bandwidth needs - perhaps not significantly, but still a raise. You’re trading bandwidth for time saved, which sounds about right.

Leo pointed out what I think is the crucial point though. In this day and age, companies innovate for the sake of innovation, and not because there’s a gap in the market. Their stock is high, but it’s not climbing, so they must have to launch something new. Apple announces new bits and pieces at least twice a year, and that’s why we’re starting to ponder if they are leaving things off brand new products just so they’ll have something to announce next time round. It’s a vicious cycle, and tends to circle around tighter and tighter until it implodes. Then where will be? I needs my Google.

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