G

oogle have released a brand new search interface called ‘Google Instant’. To try it you must be logged into your Google Account and then access either the US or UK versions of Google. Basically, Google have ‘enhanced their search technology to show your results as you type’. It is suggested that by offering ‘advanced prediction technology’ — that Google can actually show you results before you type.

A simple example — is “weather”. Under the current Google search structure, you would type “weather” and then hit Enter or press the Search button — consequently rendering the search results. This process has required 8 keyboard strokes — 7 for the word and 1 for pressing Enter. Using Google Instant, you would type the letter ‘w’ and it would automatically show you results for the top most common searched result ‘weather’ and an additional 5 top keyword searches saving you a considerable amount of search time for common searches. Google postulate that this is going to save more than 350 million hours of search time each year — due to the time saved in typing and the faster response delivery from Google. They suggest the key benefits are “Faster Searches, Smarter Predictions, Instant Results” — at least that’s the mantra.

So after we push through the gloss of the new release — what are the potential problems.

Firstly, Google suggest this is a fundamental shift in search and as a corollary of this — it’s going to cause a fundamental shift in the way people search. This suggestion is entirely based no the premise that page 2 search results are going to become increasingly redundant. Why ? Because Google Instant — at least in the short time period I have been using it — encourages you to redefine your search queries as the results appear. The previous mantra of ‘search, press enter, browse results, enter new search, press enter’ is no longer relevant since using Google Instant — the mantra changes to ‘start typing, see results, end’ or ‘start typing, see results, redefine search, see results, redefine, see results’ etc. Despite the fact that Google promises ‘nothing has changed as you can still always hit enter’ — the change in the user interface provides a disincentive for users to hit enter and frankly I forgot totally about hitting enter during my testing.

Secondly, this presents a problem for relevant results because amazingly — content is still highly relevant which appears on pages 2+ of Google. It’s just outside Googles top 10 ranking mechanism and is ranked from 11–30. This is forcing a dependency on Google that the results seen within the first 5–6 results are always the most relevant — if they are not — users simply change their search query and expect to see 5–6 new results. This is increasingly highlighted by the fact that currently — the ‘suggested search results’ box remains — even after you have finished searching and when you click outside the search box — encouraging you to search a new query. The box should really disappear once you have finished searching — highlighting search results and not suggesting that you search again.

Thirdly, I see a big increase in bandwidth. Checking out Google PageSpeed has shown a number of increases in bandwidth — checkout the 2 pics below. The first presents the search results using the current Google Search — searching ‘weather’ and the second presents the results under Google Instant searching ‘weather’. There is one proviso in this test — I typed the full keyword in both searches — so naturally Google Instant is going to return a greater bandwidth load. If I was just searching for ‘weather’ — then typing ‘w’ would have been enough.

However, any other search result which doesn’t relate to the top 5 searches is going to pull significantly more bandwidth — correlated, as a computational function, to the number of letters pressed. That is, longer searches “what is the capital of america?” — are going to pull results for each and every letter — significantly increasingly bandwidth. Notably, this didn’t bring up a “suggested search result” and so it means that I was required to type each and every letter. To show you just how much more bandwidth is eaten up, check out the results using ‘old google’ at the top and ‘Google Instant’ at the bottom for this test. That’s a 23.9KB increase in the old and new bandwidth requirements for Google Instant or a 122.5% increase in bandwidth — a significant amount.

Evidently, this becomes a much bigger issue on mobile. So far, I have not read any material from Google about the increase that Google Instant is going to have on mobile phones. Evidently, delivering results on the fly constantly is going to increase the level of bandwidth on mobile devices — and from seeing the results above — it’s pretty clear that this is going to be significant. How this effects users mobile plans, data flow and overall network bandwidth is questionable and so far hasn’t been addressed.

So it seems while some queries are faster — ‘weather’ — this is offset by the large proportion that are going to suck down a lot more bandwidth — “what is the capital of america?”. The question for Google is — while time is saved, how much extra bandwidth is consumed on the Internet ?

Some food for thought.

Posted 
Sep 9, 2010
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