Friday, 10 September 2010

More about Google Instant

Following the launch of Google Instant earlier this week, the Google, blog has published more information from the search engineering perspective as to how and why the updated search engine was developed. It outlines how Google have changed the search process from a static HTML page into an AJAX application and the challenges that were faced in doing so.

The post says that the key design challenge was to make sure users would notice relevant results without being distracted, and the constantly changing results appearing as you type can take some getting used to. Google tested a series of prototypes and ran usability studies and search experiments to try different interfaces and search results as the user typed their search.

For the launch, Google decided on a single search model which includes the query prediction in the search box in gray text as well as results for the top prediction that update continuously while the user types. In user studies, people quickly found that they would type until the gray text matches their search intention and then moved their eyes to the results. The speed of the results changing wasn't seen to be a distraction but this can depend on the user's connection speed and browser.

The mechanics of Google Instant mean that the search engine is serving five to seven times as many results pages for each query performed, compared to the original version of Google. This required some increases to Google's servers and back-end capacity, but they also developed other techniques such as new caches that can handle high request rates, user-state data to keep track of the results pages already shown to a given user, and optimized page-rendering JavaScript code to help ensure web browsers could keep up with the rest of the system.

This is undoubtedly a major step-forward in search engine technology and throws down a challenge for Bing to match their search experience to this. The search process will continue to develop and potentially change the way that people will search and possibly rely on the predictions made by Google.

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