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Summary:

Google (NSDQ: GOOG) just announced a major update to its search engine, releasing a new feature called Google Instant that automatically sho…

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Google (NSDQ: GOOG) just announced a major update to its search engine, releasing a new feature called Google Instant that automatically shows search results as a user types. During a demonstration this morning, Google VP Marissa Mayer showed how a user could type in a term like “fauv” and immediately Google would show results for “fauvism.” “There’s even a psychic element to it,” she said, explaining that the search engine was already predicting the full-term the user was planning to enter.

A later demo, which generated some “oohs” from the audience, showed how a user could type just the letter “w” and Google would immediately return the weather in their city on the results page, expecting that the user wanted to know what the local weather forecast was.

Mayer said the average search takes 25 seconds, and Google had previously spent most of its effort cutting back on the one second it takes to return results, rather than the 9 seconds people spend on average to enter a search terms or the 15 seconds they typically take selecting results. She said that, on average, “Instant” eliminates two to five seconds from the search process.

The new feature — the latest of several major updates that Google has unveiled this year — is launching in the U.S. today and will launch in the U.K., France, Italy, Germany, Spain and Russia “over the next weeks.” Executives also said the company was working on bringing the feature to mobile phones, which they said would be “especially useful” since people on-the-go are particularly interested in faster results.

It’s already live for me, and here’s what stands out: The whole experience can be somewhat dizzying, since the results page refreshes as you type. The home page experience on Google.com is also extremely different, since immediately when you enter even one single letter, you are immediately sent over to the results page. In fact, there’s no longer a need to click the “search” button on any Google page it seems, since results show up whether you select the button or not.

As several reporters pointed out during the question and answer session, there’s also a much greater emphasis put on the top results that show up, since users can select any of the suggested terms to immediately see updated listings, which is likely a more attractive option than having to scroll through pages of results.

Google executives said there are no changes to the way “we serve and rank ads,” although it’s possible that the way users interact with them might, if they spend less time overall searching and more of the time they do spend on Google focused on the first several results. “We are focused on users and we believe that will be good for our advertisers,” Mayer said. Asked how users had reacted during testing, she said that only “a very small percentage” had selected to turn the feature off.

Here’s Google’s video explaining how Instant works:

  1. The downside on the user experience is the distraction of the autosuggestion if you are trying to type a longer, more specific query. If the user is looking for something highly specific and needs 5 or more terms to get the job done, he/she has to survive the flashbulb assault of autosuggestions and page refreshes while typing the intiall 3-4 terms to get there. I cannot imagine how that does not distract rather than help the user. For short string searches, this is clearly an improvement.

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  2. Joseph,

    I hope you weren’t one of the reporters that went oooh at this extremely lame smoke and mirror act. What Google was trying to show off is nothing different than the predictive search on Facebook when typing in someone name. Except Facebook appear to be more relevant and dynamic than Google implementation.

    I doubt Google does live information retrieval as you type and this is where reporters get blindsided to the technology. No major search operation does that and quite frankly, never did. Instead, Google pretty much spits out static text files from a central repository, billions of these files that are nothing more than text/html markup. Then they create an index of a search phrase to those static files and that’s the so-called “algorithm” that supposed to be mysterious and awesome to reporters.

    These text/html files are small in size so this is actually a mediocre task for Google to present to you guys as something big/major. In fact, Facebook ability to present a binary image and a name and related friends in their predictive search is more complex than what Google showed you guys.

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