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December 12, 2007

Will Google Give Up on Universal Search?

"With universal search, we're attempting to break down the walls that traditionally separated our various search properties and integrate the vast amounts of information available into one simple set of search results." (Marissa Mayer, May 2007)

Google already integrates in Universal Search video results, books, news, images, local search results and now subscribed links. The next ingredients could be blogs, products, scholar papers and some Google Base verticals.

Even if Google says it ranks results from specialized search engines along with standard web results, this is more like a figure of speech since Google displays groups of search results from Google News, Image Search and Google Maps, not individual results. More likely, Google determines how relevant some image results are for a query and finds the proper placement. Instead of actually mixing results from many specialized search engines, Google includes some of the previous Oneboxes in a controlled fashion. Google adopted a conservative approach in order to not clutter the search results and because it's difficult to compare completely different entities. How to compare some search results for "Christmas" from Digg with a news about Christmas ornaments? decided to separate the specialized results and display them in a column generally used for advertising (like in this search for Christmas). Now Valleywag has a screenshot of a Google experiment that displays the universal results in a separate column.

Does this mean Universal Search didn't work as expected and Google tries alternative interfaces?

{ Thank you, Trey and Jordan. }


  1. I usually get annoyed by the Universal Search Thing. I mean, if I wanted images, I would've searched in "Images" not "Web".
    But I think those suggestions would be appreciated if they're displayed in a separate part of the result page, not messing with the "web" results. That way you could pay attention to them, only If you want to!

  2. Those trees for the "christmas" query along with universal search start to look pretty cluttered. On that note I wonder what's the most cluttered Google result that one can produce?

  3. I think SearchMash already does this, and it has pretty good integration.

    Why not just stick with SearchMash? I mean, it's already there, use it!

  4. Universal Search works great for Google, because after Universal Search launched, traffic for Google Maps skyrocketed. Beside Image Search, Google's users didn't know other Google search engines.

  5. When I think about it, there are many way that this can be done. I guess Google needs to experiment with different formats and see how users benefit from it. They can do their infamous multi-variate A/B testing and see what works best, We can of course come up with ideas, but they will be highly biased toward the way "we" use our computer that the way "the masses" use theirs.

    As for me, I like to have a number of columns for each vertical. So left column shows traditional results. next column shows videos, next shows products, then ads, then images, my own Google desktop search as another column. These days i don't really care where the information comes from, as long as I can get hold of it. So a single interface that searches everything and gives results in clusters is wonderful.
    Future Converged

  6. The main question is: should Google display all the information in a heterogeneous list or separate it into sections?

  7. I like how Google Desktop adds a few results to the top of my web search pages from my own files. Things that I think I can't find are right there.

    Give me a few results from other categories in this fashion at the top of the page just like it happens now. Maps and images on top of my desktop results and web results will do fine for me.

  8. Actually, we don't know that subscribed links are part of Universal Search. Just because something is shoved in the middle of results doesn't mean it is Universal Search, which was actually measuring the relevancy of some very specific vertical search engines and deciding which listings from each should make it into the final 10. Subscribed Links, for example, don't replace one of the regular 10 results but instead are additional to it. I'm doing a follow up with Google to clarify some of what's going on, hopefully to come out next week.

  9. @Danny Sullivan:
    No "universal" search result from Google News, image search, local search (and now subscribed links) is counted as a real search result. In my example for "Christmas", Google showed 10 search results from the web and two "universal results" from Subscribed Links and Google News.

  10. @Ionut Alex Chitu

    Why not just keep all of it?

    I mean, why not have settings where you could configure the way you want Google to behave/look. With Google account, it's quite possible.
    Or you could also use cookie for that.

    It's quite known that you can't please 100% of users, unless you give everyone a choice.

    I think the real question right now is, what would be the "default" Google?

  11. I'm glad Google thought twice about universal search. I mean if I want images I'd click on the image tab or add image-related keywords.

    The process is a two-way one. As 'search' became nearly a household thing, consumers are learning more and more to search properly to get the results they want. Google has to adapt to this and make their interface and results as "organic" and as usable as possible.

  12. As I have read many people note, Google's univesal search is really a way for them to own more real estate on their search result pages. Additionally, universal search doesn't pull together the most relevant results, it muddles the result page. I hope it is considered a failed experiment.

  13. Probably the best title for this post would've been: "Will Google change the interface for Universal Search?". The intention wasn't to say that universal search is a bad idea, but the current interface is too cluttered and needs dome organization.