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Googling in an instant

| November 7, 2010 8:00 PM

Dear PropellerHeads: OK, this is weird. I was googling something and search results showed up while I was typing. What's up?

A: Pretty cool, huh? You have experienced Google Instant (www.google.com/instant). Made available about a month ago, Google intercepts search words as you type them and predicts what you plan to search for, then sends results to you instantly. You get search results before asking for them. Magic? Yep. Scary? A little.

In an effort to meet the growing need for immediate, fast, smart Internet services, Google now predicts the future with the speediest of searches. Next, I guess Facebook will start posting "2day sux" on my page every Monday morning.

One nice thing about Google Instant is that no training is required. Just type your search words like you always did. In addition to the auto-complete suggestions that already popped up, you will now notice that search results start appearing on your page as you type. It may mean you can stop typing mid-word and you are done. Worst case, Google guessed wrong and you can just keep typing.

At this time, Google Instant is only available from the main search page (google.com) in most browsers and in the Chrome browser's built-in search bar. Other browser search bars don't support it yet. Google promises mobile support in the future.

According to Google, people type slowly, but scan pages quickly. So, they estimate saving an average of 2-5 seconds per search. That translates to 3.5 billion saved search seconds per day - time you can better spend aimlessly surfing the Web. Google held a live event announcing this on Sept. 8. Check out the transcript at http://rww.to/9WGukZ.

You have to give Google credit here. Their search predicting is impressive and even more so in real time. Just consider what they have to manage as you type "c o c k e r s p a n i e l" to make sure you find adorable dogs and not something that would shock your mom.

Why create this new feature? My take on this is that Google's dominance is predicated on almost everyone using their search to the exclusion of competitors. Bing's recent success could present a problem if not met head on. So, competition is one reason you are enjoying this new innovation.

But greater availability of high-speed Internet access has also played a role. In order for this to work, Google must respond to what you are typing and process suggestions instantly and with each keystroke. That involves not only a massive amount of search power (the company says their servers are now 10 to 20 times busier), but also requires fast connection speeds. Because most of us enjoy Speedy Gonzalez-rated Internet connections, Google can count on this working.

One area where this could make a difference is on search keyword matching. In the past you entered search keywords in their entirety and then searched. Say you were hoping to make some of Speedy's special chili. You planned on typing "chili con carne recipe." But as you typed "chil," you saw results for the Chilean mining rescue appear on your page. Before you know it, you get sidetracked and never get your spicy delight. (If this happens to you, consider disabling the new feature by clicking on the "Instant is on/off" link in the upper right of the search results page.)

You can imagine how this might affect those sites that are usually found with more complex search keywords. This means that careful selection of concise, specific keywords is even more important. As a result of these changes, Google also changed the way they calculate the amount of traffic they send to websites enrolled in their advertising programs. You can find more on this at http://bit.ly/arsddI.

In preparing this article, I saved about 28 search seconds. Is that enough time to make instant chili?

When the PropellerHeads at Data Directions aren't busy with their IT projects, they love to answer questions on business or consumer technology. E-mail them to questions@askthepropellerheads.com or contact us at Data Directions Inc., 8510 Bell Creek Road, Mechanicsville, VA 23116. Visit our website at www.askthepropellerheads.com.

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