As everyone on this campus has no doubt noticed by now, Google.com looks a bit different as of yesterday. At a three-hour press conference webcast live, Google announced that it was taking “critical first steps toward a universal search model that will offer users a more integrated and comprehensive way to search for and view information online.” This means that we’ll be seeing more cross-product integration within Google’s bread-and-butter search results, so that when searching for “an inconvenient truth,” you’ll get the movie trailer right in the search results where you can watch it without leaving the results page. Similarly, blog search results, news stories, maps, and other pieces of Google technology will be integrated fluidly into the search results, as Google deems necessary.
It is definitely an improvement to have Google serve up related content, like video or news, even though users haven’t explicitly asked for it, and to integrate it into the results, rather than impose it always at the top, as it used to be with the Google “OneBox.” It is also exciting to think about what could be next, if these are only the “critical first steps.”
However, a few of their design choices seem counterintuitive. Already, people are complaining about the decision to move the vertical search options on the Google homepage to the top, away from the search box, like it used to be. The constant extra mousing required is simply a strain on users.
Also puzzling is that the vertical search options bar at the top is duplicated in search results pages below the search box. Apparently, this is to emphasize those product categories with significant results in addition to the general results, but the emphasis is a killer for users’ trains of thought. If you search for “Justin Timberlake” and decide you want to see News results for him, you have to choose between two News links, which wastes time (as user testing should have revealed).
In addition, users can’t habituate to the lower bar. If you search for a less-popular celebrity, say Barbara Streisand, and look for News results for her, News simply isn’t listed as an option in the lower bar, so you have to look back up to the bar at the top. Again, the extra confusion this causes leads to a frayed user experience, rather than the seemless, “universal” feel Google was going for.
Add this to the fact that the interface changes haven’t been propagated across Google’s products (for example, News still uses the old vertical search bar), and it feels like we’re all beta testers for the next Google product. Except for the fact that we already rely on these products and expect them to behave predictably and consistently. For the most part, they do. I guess with Google, though, I’ve come to expect to be more pleasantly surprised.