News: Introducing Google Instant

News: Introducing Google Instant

Sep 08


Washington Post
September 8, 2010

Original Link

So this is what all the fuss was about: Google’s latest tweak to its search engine — heralded over the last two days with curious changes to the company’s home-page logo — allows you to see search results before you finish typing a query.

Google Instant is the next logical extension of the search engine’s “auto-complete” feature, which suggests search queries matching what you’ve typed so far. It also represents a vaguely frightening statement about our collective attention span online — and how much Google claims to know about our interests.

It works like this: If you’re signed into Google and run a modern browser (Mozilla Firefox 3.0 or newer, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 8, Apple’s Safari 5 and version 5 or newer of Google’s Chrome) and start typing a query on Google’s home page, the site will display links matching your query after you’ve typed the first letter.

For example, typing just “w” yielded links showing the current weather for the District. Revising and extending that query to “wa” caused Google to spotlight links for Wal-Mart; “was” yielded links to The Post’s Web properties. (These results, like Google’s ordinary results, are tailored to a signed-in users’ location; a friend in Portland, Ore., tweeted that “k” yielded info about one of the city’s TV stations, while here it directed me to pages about King’s Dominion.)

Instant also shies away from providing previews to objectionable content. Attempting to type more than the first half of a common four-letter word beginning with “f” caused Google to stop suggesting links.

The Mountain View, Calif., company seems quite proud of the time Google Instant can save, bragging that this option “saves the average searcher two to five seconds per search.”

I hope that doesn’t become Instant’s primary selling point — unless we really have become a race of info-hamsters, running ever faster on our exercise wheels.

Instant looks more interesting when seen as a way to turn a search into a conversation: You type a query, see what Google suggests for a match, then revise, check its suggestions again, revise further, and so on. Except instead of having to click the “Back” button repeatedly, all this happens on one page.

But to get any benefit out of this option (you can turn it off with a link to the right of the search box), some of Google’s most frequent users will have to break longstanding habits. Instant doesn’t work in the search boxes that browsers provide as a shortcut for Web queries. Google will need a few months to extend Instant to there — and to its mobile search site.

If you’re not signed into Google, you may not see Instant for another couple of days, and users in other countries will have to wait longer.

But if Instant is available for you, give it a try, and let me know what you think. Was it worth the mysterious buildup to today’s announcement? Does this seem like something you’ve been waiting for? And, for extra credit: How many keystrokes does it take before Instant produces a link to relevant information about you?


1 comment

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