Google Instant was announced yesterday but the underlying technology has been under development for years. Google Instant vastly improves the search experience for users, but it is much more than just cool User Interface changes in how search results are displayed. Competitors in the search business will have a very difficult time replicating this technology and providing a similar search experience to their users. Matt Cutts from Google and Matt McGee from SearchEngineLand have excellent reviews of Google Instant.
The first thing you notice about Google Instant is the predictive search query help. With each letter you type Google displays relevant search queries. They change and update in real time with each letter you type. Here are a couple screen shots that show how the query and resultant search results change on the fly as you type.
Google Instant knows what topics are hot and current. Type the single letter A and see what searches pop up. Things like Amazon, Apple, AOL, Android. These are the most popular searches that begin with the letter A. Try typing the letter "i" and see Ikea, IMDB, and Inception, then new movie. To do this well takes years of search query analysis, and a super fresh index that captures the newest information.
In the past search engines had "related searches" that suggested other relevant search queries, but those only appeared after hitting return and seeing the first page of search results. Google Instant suggests other relevant search queries instantly as you type each letter. So, there are constant requests going back to the Google servers in the background without you hitting the return key.
Sure, AJAX technology has done similar real time calls to a server in the background for years. But, delivering relevant, real time search suggestions and search results has never been done before. This is truly an amazing technological feat.
It took years of technical improvements in browser technology, search algorithms, server enhancements, spelling correction, auto-complete, real time search, faster search index updates, and analysis of trending search queries to make this work.
The beauty of Google Instant is that it all works instantly in the background with no change in user behavior. It just works.
There have been lots of changes over the years in how search results are displayed, or how other relevant information is added to the search results. These were relatively simple User Interface (UI) changes that could be easily replicated by competitors. Google Instant is totally different. I don't think you will see anything like this from other search engines for a long time. This is extremely hard to do, and very expensive to implement.
If you look closely at these screen shots you can also see improvements like Maps, Places, Directions, Telephone Numbers, Photos, etc. All of these have been quietly added to the search experience without any change in user behavior. Search has been constantly improving with little changes that we all have come to expect. Google Instant is a BIG change that has been developing over several years.
When Can I get Google Instant? The service is available now in the USA and will be launching in the UK, France, Italy, Germany, Spain and Russia within a week or so.
What do I need? You must be signed into your Google account for Google Instant to work. You need to have a current browser version like Chrome v5 or v6, Firefox v3, Safari v5 for Mac or Internet Explorer v8. Google Instant takes advantage of the latest browser technology so you might want to update your browser. Now might be a good time to check out Google's browser called Chrome. I use Chrome all the time. It is fast and powerful, and it supports the latest HTML5 technology. Google Instant will work with browser based search plug-ins and on mobile devices later this year.
The most effective technology improvements are the ones that happen automatically in the background with no change in user behavior. Google Instant significantly raises the bar in search technology...automatically, in real time.
There are other amazing technology advances underway at Google in other business segments that we can't talk about yet. There will be some game changing announcements coming. It is an exciting time to be working at Google.
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