Business, Media, Sci-Tech

Google Instant is like instant water – just add water

By Sipho Hlongwane 10 September 2010

Google has launched one of the biggest changes to its search website since its inception. Called Google Instant, it displays search results as you type into the search box. Or rather, it guesses what you want, and displays the page results. Some analysts are struggling to see why Google even bothered developing this new service. By SIPHO HLONGWANE.

“Google Instant is a new search enhancement that shows results as you type,” Google announced. “We are pushing the limits of our technology and infrastructure to help you get better search results, faster. Our key technical insight was that people type slowly, but read quickly, typically taking 300 milliseconds between keystrokes, but only 30 milliseconds (a tenth of the time) to glance at another part of the page. This means that you can scan a results page while you type.”

It’s like auto-complete, only Google predicts what you’re searching for and brings results up as you type. The service is currently available only in the US, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Russia, so we can’t tell you firsthand whether it’s any good or not. There’s even a clever ad, using the music video to Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues, which was specifically designed to piss Steve Jobs off (according to Gawker) by evoking the “culturally resonant, emotionally relevant, vaguely countercultural force in tech” angle that is traditionally Apple’s territory. We do suspect that it’s a bit of a faff, however, based on demo videos as well as the verdicts of those who’ve tried it out already. Instant is only available to Google account holders, for now. Oh, and if you type in a naughty word, Instant will not bring the search results up.

Google is selling this as a time-saver, claiming it will save the world a combined 11 hours a second (based on the fact that Google answers 1 billion search queries a day) by bringing the average time for a search down from 24 to 20 seconds.
The service isn’t as smart as the Google developers would have us believe. The potential for getting search results wrong is high, as Gawker showed in the hilarious “Things That Are Now Embarrassing to Search for on Google” article. If you type in “Erec”, looking for “Erector Set”, Google Instant brings up “erectile dysfunction”. Instead of Ibsen, it brings up IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), and so forth.

Compared to Google’s other recent offerings, Google Instant is a bit underwhelming. The Telegraph’s Milo Yiannopoulos wrote, “Is it just me, or was that the most spectacularly anti-climactic announcement in the technology industry for a decade? Can we just take a step back for a second? Google is faced on all sides with explosive growth from networks and platforms that aren’t even indexable, let alone visible to Google for the purposes of ad sales, and it unveils a slightly faster way to get your search results? What am I missing here?”

Not that Google’s other recent offerings were in any way an adequate bid to capture the social media platforms that are slowly unpeeling Google’s embrace of online content channelling. Twitter and Facebook means that content comes searching for us now, unlike Google, where the user still has to go in search of it. Google Wave and Buzz, the forays of Google into the social networking world, were complete failures. Maybe Google just can’t be bothered with social media and decided to focus on making search a little prettier.

Given the brains, money and time available to Google, the consensus is that Instant is a disappointing offering. Gawker’s Ryan Tate warns that it could very well become the internet’s latest version of New Coke. Yiannopoulos was even less gracious in his conclusion, “So, after years of research, in response to the question, ‘What next for Google?’ that’s what all those billions of dollars and brain cells have come up with. Wow.” DM



Read more: Google explains Instant, Gawker on Instant, Gawker’s “Things That Are Now Embarrassing to Search for on Google”, Gawker on “The Google Ad that Steve Jobs Will Hate”, New Scientist on the more technical side of Google Instant.

Photo: Reuters


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