I watched the demo online on Wednesday of Google's new Instant search feature. Instant not only offers autocompletion suggestions, which Google has offered for months now, but also starts returning search results as it autocompletes. No pesky pressing of the return button required.
That mightn't sound like a big deal, certainly not the “fundamental shift” in search that Google's Marissa Mayer declared it (at least, not for searchers; on the SEO side of the equation, woo, Nelly.). But it is going to be a time-saver, not only because of the autocompletion, but because, once you get used to it, you're actually scanning the results before you've finished your query.
It also has a feature that caused me a spot of nostalgia for my old default search engine, Infoseek.
The greyer of hair among us will remember a time when the terms “Google” and “Internet search” weren't synonymous. In fact, there was a whole landscape of Archie-based search tools, and the tiny differences between how they operated made some people more inclined to use Alta Vista, while others might prefer Yahoo.
Infoseek was the one that suited the way my mind works best; I serially refine my searches. Call it iterative searching, maybe. I would search on a particular term — say, for the sake of argument and because I missed lunch today, “macaroni.” Infoseek allowed you to search within the results returned for “macaroni.” So, I would then search “salad.” WIthin “macaroni>salad,” I might then search, “shrimp.” I would then have arrived at my destination, recipes for macaroni salad with shrimp. I'd then remember how good my Mom's was, and call and ask for hers again.
(By the bye, transposing a couple of letters in “infoseek” would lead you to a Web site that you should never, ever, visit at work. It may still, but I haven't checked.)
Yes, it's something you can do with Boolean searches, but I found iterative searching more effective. Infoseek was gobbled up by Disney in 1998, merged with another purchase into the Go Network, then dumped altogether in favour of Yahoo.
How does Google Instant remind me of Infoseek?
Start typing “macaroni” in Instant. By the time you get to “maca,” one of the suggestions it will offer will be “macaroni salad.” selct it with the cursor and tab; “macaroni sald” is now the search term, and links to recipes are filling your page. Continue typing “with shrimp.” Again, Instant will predict you're after shrimp; cursor down, hit tab. Now the recipes have shrimp in them. Continue typing “tomatoes.” Things go straight to hell at this point, because no one's crazy enough to put shrimp AND tomatoes in their macaroni salad. In Google, the results now are uselessly fragmented, as they can be when you put in too many search terms without grouping them. In Infoseek, elegantly, there would be none.
So the new Instant search is a sort of single-window version of Infoseek's interative search refinement, a glossier version of a 15-year-old technology. I like it.