From Technology Review
February 6, 2008
A New Perspective on Search Results
Google is experimenting with different ways to serve up search results. But will any of them stick?
By Kate Greene
Amid the flurry of news over Microsoft's bid for Yahoo and Google's rebuttal, a research announcement by Google went largely unnoticed. Last week, the search giant began a public experiment in which users can make their search results look a little different from the rest of the world's....
... While search algorithms are constantly improving, the interface has remained static for more than a decade: people submit keyword queries, and the engine spits back a list of 10 hyperlinked results. "If you compare Google search-result listings today to the Infoseek results in 1997, they're almost indistinguishable [in terms of presentation], except for the ads," says Marti Hearst, a professor in the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley.
Hearst says that there continue to be attempts from non-Google engines to offer alternatives to the standard search interface. Ask.com, for instance, lets a user see a thumbnail view of each Web page before she clicks through to the link. And Clusty.com extracts words that are found on the search-results pages, letting a user drill down to a more specific search. For instance, a search for "MIT" can be specified to include references to "laboratory," "Massachusetts Institute of Technology," "project," and other words or word combinations.
But these slight alterations in search have been slow to catch on, as is evident from Google's dominance in the field and its relatively conservative approach to its user interface. Hearst thinks that many people tend to use Google and other simple interfaces for a couple of reasons. One is that search engines must accommodate a wide range of users, from the novice to the savvy. Less experienced users tend to get distracted when more information is presented on the screen, she says: people don't respond well to being overloaded with information, especially when they want a simple answer to a query. But perhaps more important, she says, is the fact that people are familiar with a decade-old interface and, as creatures of habit, they are reluctant to try something new....