“I don’t need ten blue links — just give me the answer!”–Bing Search Blog post, October 2010
“Yahoo Vows Death to the ’10 Blue Links’”–IDG News article, May 2009
It’s funny: Google’s competitors spend a lot of time explaining that “ten blue links”–the traditional search results that we’ve known since the dawn of search engines–are annoying and/or obsolete. But I haven’t noticed any consumer uprising over them, or a mass exodus from search engines that use them. Actually, I suspect that any company that rails against “ten blue links” would cheerfully swap places with Google if it had the chance, dependent on blue links though Google may be.
And at Google’s Inside Search event today, thee was lots of news–but the company didn’t seem to be on a mission to deemphasize traditional results pages. Instead, most of the news was about making the blue links more useful–getting you to them more quickly, in more ways, then letting you get past them and onto a Web page that provides the information (Google would probably say “knowledge” rather than “information” which you’re looking for.
The morning’s announcements included recaps of recent Google search improvements, plus some new ones:
- Instant Pages is a new feature in Chrome which loads the first result in a Google search in the background before you click on it, so it loads almost instantly if you do click on it–even if it’s a page that normally takes several seconds to render. (You can get it in Chrome’s Dev version now, or in the next beta, or in non-beta Chrome this summer.)
- Search by Image lets users of Google.com’s desktop version drag and drop an image into the search field, then get results that relate to it. Google’s demo involved a snapshot of a Greek island which the search engine’s image-recognition technology was able to identify. (It should show up in the next couple of days.)
- Voice Search, a feature of Android and Google’s iPhone app that lets you speak a query rather than typing it, will be available in Chrome as well. (It’ll roll out over the next week.)
- Google Images will get the Google Instant feature which starts displaying results as you type. (This one will arrive over the next couple of months, but you can turn it on in Google Labs now.)
- Google.com’s mobile version has some new features, including icons on the home page for items such as “Restaurants” and “Coffee” that take you directly to blue links coupled with an interactive map, and a query “builder” that lets you construct searches based on Google’s suggestions as you type. (I confess that I don’t completely understand how this second feature works even after seeing it demoed and trying it for myself.)
That’s a lot of new functionality to chew on, not all of which is available quite yet. And some of it will require Chrome, at least for now, although Google says it’s using open standards that would let other browsers implement these features, and that it plans to roll some of the new functionality into Google Toolbar.
Almost none of what the company announced today is about eliminating blue links; at most, it’s about supplementing links with additional useful info, as Google Mobile is now doing with its links-and-map view. In that respect, it strikes me as being both extremely ambitious and rather traditional.
As usual at Google events, the spokespeople on stage said (over and over) that Google is obsessed with speed–and in one way or another, everything they showed off today was about making searching faster. It says that it benchmarks how long searches take down to the millisecond, and that the new improvements can shave several seconds off a search, resulting in happier users and a happier Google.
Of course, it said similar things about Google Instant when it announced it last year. If Google watched me search and timed how long it took, I don’t dispute that Instant might be speeding things up, but I’ve never quite warmed up to it: it still makes me feel a bit as if I’m being smacked in the face with search results (some of which are irrelevant ) before I’m ready to look at them. Speed in other words, is unquestionably essential–but I’m not so sure that it automatically translates into a better experience.
I was still impressed overall by what Google showed off today, and I’m looking forward to trying it and writing about it as it rolls out. More thoughts to come…