Google has launched two features: Google Instant — a live streaming search — and Google Scribe, which is a text completion service akin to predictive text on mobile phones.
Google Instant, launched on Wednesday, replaces the default search on Google.com, but can be switched off if required. In essence, Instant provides constantly updated 'streaming' search results based on what is being typed, removing the need to hit 'enter' to refine or perform the search.
According to Google, the Ajax-based system results in savings of between two and five seconds per search and, before Instant, the average searcher took nine seconds to enter a term, with other more complex searches taking 30-90 seconds to type.
Instant is being rolled out gradually, starting with Google domains in the US, the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Russia, with others to follow. The service currently works on Chrome version 5 and 6, Firefox version 3, Safari version 5 for Mac and Internet Explorer 8.
Google says that the new system doesn't change the ranking of search results and its Webmaster Central blog suggests that sites could actually see an increase in traffic. However, Matthew Whiteway, director of campaign management at the search and social marketing agency Greenlight, says in a statement that the new system "could play havoc with an advertiser's Google Quality Score". Whiteway also questions Google's motivation for such a drastic overhaul.
"The CPC [cost per click] that Google can charge for 'longtail' keywords [searches longer than two keywords] is significantly lower than that on more generic queries... The more people search for longtail search queries, the less money Google can charge the advertiser," Whiteway said. "With 'streaming search' Google is potentially helping users find relevant results with less search term queries, thus increasing the number of clicks on generic terms and therefore increasing the CPC for the advertiser. Many would argue Google Instant is an example of Google flexing its technological processing power and helping users get results quicker. However, there must also be some form of financial benefit for Google."
Google isn't the first company to offer 'streaming' search services; Yahoo launched Instant Search in beta form in September 2005, as well as launching AlltheWeb Livesearch in 2006. However, according to Stephen Hood, product search manager for Yahoo in 2005, both ventures failed due to "very little institutional appetite for product risk".
"Yahoo would not let us ship LiveSearch on yahoo.com or as a part of Yahoo's search engine. Instead we were only allowed to launch it on AlltheWeb, a smaller, lower-traffic search engine that Yahoo had acquired years earlier and largely left to atrophy. In comparison, Google just launched it on google.com. Boom," wrote Hood on his blog on Wednesday.
The second new Google feature, Scribe, launched on Tuesday and provides a predictive text service that can be used across Gmail or Google's Blogger platform — or any website — by adding the Google Scribe widget to a browser's bookmarks folder. The service also has its own homepage that doesn't require use of the Scribe widget.
As the user types, the activated service brings up a list of Google's suggestions for the next word you may want to type. For example, typing 'what' brings up 'is' as the first suggested word and 'is Autoshare' as the second. Suggestions are displayed 10 at a time; hitting 'enter' will insert the first suggestion, or typing the corresponding number for the others.
The most popular suggestions can be filtered alphabetically or by their Google Scribe score, which synthesises "popularity, relevance and other factors", according to Google. Predicted words can also be sorted by relevance, displaying the most relevant words based on those surrounding the cursor and placing less emphasis on popularity. You can also use the service based on the expected typing savings, although Google says it still looks at the most appropriate suggestion first, rather than simply offering up the largest savings.
Scribe currently works in English only and can be enabled or disabled on any web page once the widget is installed by pressing Ctrl+J.
Google Instant provides constantly updated 'streaming' search results based on what is being typed. Photo credit: James Martin/CNET News