Google Rolls Out New Search Interface to All Users

Google (s goog), after testing a new search interface for months, is rolling out the new look starting today, and says it expects most English-speaking users will see it by the end of the week. The biggest difference is a new left-hand navigation menu that appears by default (the old menu required that a user click to display it) with colorful icons for the different categories. The menu displays only the sub-categories and search tools Google believes are relevant to a search, rather than showing them all by default. And the home page has gotten a makeover as well, one that includes a new, cleaner-looking logo which loses some of its drop-shadow look as well as ditching the TM trademark symbol.

Google engineer Patrick Riley, who was in charge of the team that developed most of the new search options, said in an interview that the company is “constantly changing and developing” its search interface to allow users to find what they are looking for more easily. The changes that are being rolled out this week, he said, have been tested for several months in a variety of ways, including what are called “bucket tests” — where certain users get access to the features on a semi-random basis — as well as more rigorous tests with users in Google’s labs, and internal “dog food” tests with Google employees.

Although the colorful icons are likely to catch user’s eyes the most, Riley said that the intelligence behind the left-hand menu (which Google has been experimenting with off and on since 2006) is what he’s proudest of. The menu will only show the tools and related search categories that Google’s algorithms determine are the most relevant for a specific search, with the rest rolled up (although they can be expanded with a click of the arrow button). “So you’ll see different things there for a search on string theory vs. a search for something like red shoes,” said the Google engineer.

The search navigation menu will also show what Google believes to be the most relevant date range for a search, Riley said, so it would show a shorter range for something current such as the Icelandic volcano that erupted recently and a longer range for an older event. And it will display what Google thinks are the most appropriate other tools, such as the “wonder wheel” for image-based searches, or a search specific to sites that have images. The menu also has a new category called “Something Different,” which shows related search terms in case a user wants to expand their search, Riley said.