Google Instant: It’s All About Fast (Updated)

by francine Hardaway on September 8, 2010

Image representing Google Search as depicted i...
Image via CrunchBase

Early in the summer, Google invited me down to its campus to test a new product. Excited and sworn to secrecy, I went and did it. Although I am still sworn to secrecy about what goes on Google’s usability testing labs, suffice it to say I was fascinated. And although Google graciously offered me a small gift, i would have paid them to be there.

And now I am in the audience with the rest of the people formerly called press ( thanks @JayRosen_nyu) to watch the launch of the product i tested, which will be available today in the US. It is 9AM and we’re about to see the final version of what I tested. I know this because the person I met from the lab is here:-)

The event is called “Search 2010,” and it is billed as a state of the union of search. And here I will stop and begin taking notes.

The event is being held at SFMOMA because search, the introducer, the head of corporate communications says, is part art and part science.

Marissa Mayer starts by saying there are now 1,000,000,000 users a week on Google. And that in 2010 hundreds of changes to search were rolled out, including Caffeine, the fast indexer; real-time search; spelling corrections as part of auto-complete; enhancements to questions and answers; stars in search; and redesign with a left navigation that allows the user to slice and dice results.

On the lighter side, 2010 also featured Google’s First Super Bowl commercial and an expansion of weird logo designs like bubbles:-)

Marissa then says Google wants search to be fun, fast, interactive, so…

[pullquote]”a fundamental shift to search is being announced today. It is called Google Instant,[/pullquote] and it is instant, predictive, and incorporates feedback.”

Google research revealed that it rakes the average user 9 seconds to enter a search term, and 15 seconds to select a result. Google has already tried to optimize that 15 seconds for the user through its Chrome browser, site redesign, etc. Now, Mayer says, it is trying to optimize speed for typing and thinking.

And that’s what Google Instant is all about. It is fast, responsive, and full of feedback. It will roll out on your browser some time today in the US. It will be all over the world in a week, and it will be native to Chrome in a “couple of months.” And on mobile, where it will be most welcome, “some time in the fall.”

That was the end of the announcement, and I hastily threw up the first part of this post as a live blog. And then came the questions, which were incredible in their intensity, variety, and in some cases, hostility. Irina Slutsky noticed that not only won’t Google Instant predict her last name, but it wouldn’t even return her first and last name as a search result anymore! This might be a mistake, but Sergey Brin said it had to do with a desire to make Google family friendly (or something similar).

That’s obviously a gray area in the First Amendment freedom vicinity, and no one had a good answer for it. For Irina, who is known to the geek and press communities and writes for Ad Age, this will probably be personally corrected by tonight. [It is already fixed.] For my friend Charlie Slutsky, who owns the Nevele Hotel in the Catskills, perhaps not so fast. Scoble tweeted that this was like China.

Another somewhat hostile question was about what this would do to SEO/SEM. If people don’t have to type to search, and search comes to them, what happens to keywords? Danny Sullivantweeted that this puts the emphasis on suggestions rather than keywords for SEO, but won’t kill SEO.

And then there were questions about mobile, native appearance in the browser search box (right now Google Instant has rolled out only on, and appearance in Kanji. Soon, soon, soon. Fall, fall, fall.

I was impressed by the event, especially with the number of questions the Google team answered afterwards. Sergey Brin not only personally answered questions, but was besieged by photographers and press wildly recording him as I left an hour after the event technically ended.

Last but not least, the event planners served us breakfast AND lunch. Can I be bought? For that quiche, yes.

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