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November 18, 2010

Google Search as an Interactive Web App

2010 is the year when Google made the most significant changes to the Google search interface. After many years of improving the underlying search technology without too many obvious changes, Google felt that it has to morph Google search into a modern web application.

Today, Google's search engine has a lot of features that clutter the interface and advanced search features that can't be disabled. The focus has shifted from simplicity to interactivity. Google tries to anticipate your query after typing a few characters, you can filter the results by clicking on an option from the sidebar and you can even preview the results using annotated screenshots.

Until a few years ago, Google tried to find the best search results for your query. Now it helps you find the best query for your search. Google shows search suggestions, automatically corrects typos, ignores words from your query and fetches the list of search results as you type a query. Google search is now a web app that empowers users to adjust the results and to make decisions. It's not a decision search engine, it's just a search engine that lets you decide what are the best results.

Google's results are already personalized using signals like location or search history, but that's no longer enough to sift through billions of search results. The search box can't always capture user intent, so Google had to find ways to extend the search box to the entire search results page.

"As people get more sophisticated at search they are coming to us to solve more complex problems. To stay on top of this, we have spent a lot of time looking at how we can better understand the wide range of information that's on the web and quickly connect people to just the nuggets they need at that moment," explained a Google blog post from 2009 that announced the search options sidebar.

Google is all about reducing the friction of entering a query. You no longer have to "feel lucky" when you type something in the search box because the results are displayed instantly and you can quickly adjust them. Google's results don't have to be perfect because you can customize them until they're perfect for you.

There's one Google doodle that captures the essence of Google's transformation from a simple search engine to an interactive web app. It was used to promote Google Instant, but it's probably the best summary of this post:


  1. All is good and productive from Google except for annoying instant previews. I don't think instant previews are necessary for a user just to get what he want through search.

  2. I would disagree, I still think that Google provides good search results that match up to what you are searching without much work or tweaking. I have found search results on Google is still way better then any competitor (like bing). Image previews are slightly unnecessary though.

  3. @Venkat: I find instant previews to be very useful. When there are multiple similar results in the results page, the previews help me quickly find which page is more likely to be useful. They are not always required, but they are quite useful at times.

  4. Here are some ideas:

  5. "The focus has shifted from simplicity to interactivity."

    What about those of us that prefer simplicity? Maybe another "simple" search engine will come along someday...

    "Until a few years ago, Google tried to find the best search results for your query. Now it helps you find the best query for your search."

    After Google finally helps me find the "best query for my search", the results usually aren't as good...

    "Google's results don't have to be perfect because you can customize them until they're perfect for you."

    It used to be that Google seemed to magically know what I wanted, now I have to search multiple times just to get something's sad.

  6. Alex, what exactly is it, that you can't turn off? Instant preview can be turned off by clicking the magnifying glass and query predictions can be turned off in settings.

  7. Just give the text summary and one URL to click. That's all. None of this preview or predictive crap.

  8. One thing that is really helpful for me is the addition of "Discussions" where you can search your terms in forums and answers sites.

    But the rest of the improvements are just meh for me...

  9. Agree with the author.

  10. Thanks for this post about the new Google Search. I'm still not sure whether or not I like this feature.