Google on Wednesday introduced a major update to its core search service, hoping to leapfrog a series of usability and technological gains made by its main competitor, Bing. Google Search now includes a feature called Google Instant, which provides instant, predictive, on-the-fly search results as you type—dramatically speeding the already fast service.
"It's search at the speed of thought," Google Vice President Marissa Mayer said at an event introducing the new version of the service. She added that there's even a psychic element to it.
OK, not really, but it can be eerily prescient. Type in a search term such as "Windows Phone," and Google Search will supply a number of Google Instant results in a pop-up list under the search box. These include "Windows Phone 7," "Windows Phone 7 SDK," "Windows Phone 7 release date," and "Windows Phone 7 review." Search for "Barack," and a number of results about the current US president appear.
Still unresolved is how this new feature will change online advertising. Currently, businesses purchase web ads that target specific queries. But because Google users are getting results quicker than ever, they might never get to more complex queries. The result could be less business, especially for smaller businesses that can't afford to advertise against simpler, more popular search terms.
A broader concern, perhaps, is that Google Instant could lead to a further "dumbing down" of the Internet by cutting off research more quickly and causing users to simply pick one of the results that come up quickly. Some will likely find the pop-up suggestions and instant results confusing and distracting, as well.
Google says that Instant Search will actually make Google Search more useful because it's possible to adjust searches on the fly, based on the results you see. And users can explore similar queries they might not have otherwise considered because they'll pop up in the suggestions list.
Google Instant is also heading to mobile devices later this year, Google says. And it will be added to the desktop version of the company's Chrome web browser, which features an integrated web-search feature.