This is another one of those “Opinions are like A$$%^%s, Everybody’s Got One” type posts…

Regarding Google’s recent changes, I thought Business Week had a really great article in their May 10 – May 16th, 2010 issue, “How Google Got Its New Look.”

Why do I find Google’s moves interesting?

The Obvious

As Google moves, so do many other things.

Degree of Change

What’s really mind blowing to me is the degree of changes and features. Some, such as the drill down options, I and others have been saying for years they’d have to add. There’s too much on the web for PageRank popularity algorithms alone to surface what’s most important. Especially when people type in just a few key words. Though people have been adding more keywords to their searches, often they start out with very few. Sometimes they do so as part of a discovery process. That is, often people search with a wide net just to try to discover the language they need to use to seek out a new concept. And other times, they add words to collapse the ambiguity bubble. My favorite example is “Bass.” Were you searching for “Bass” the fish? Or “Bass Ale?” Or “Bass Shoes?” Or “Bass Guitar?” Or someone with the last name of “Bass?” Ironically, with all the drill down options they’ve added, taxonomic categories is not one of those options. A variety of alternative search engines from Clusty to

Visualizations

Google Wonder Wheel Exampole for "Scuba"

Google Wonder Wheel Exampole for

As to other new features, I’m amazed by the Wonderwheel and Timeline. Mostly because I’m fascinated their research has shown that users are ready for these visualizations, and that they’re so prominent on their left nav. I’m perhaps especially amazed as I don’t see their visualizations as being either all the state-of-the-art of all that clear. Again, plenty of others have used advanced visualizations for search, such as Viewzi, Quintura, Search Cube and a whole bunch of others. Now it’s true enough that a lot of these alternatives aren’t that great. (Though I think Viewzi and Quntura are potentially useful.) But there are other services that I think do effectively use visualizations for special purposes. VisualThesaurus is a great example. In any case, it’s difficult for any new kid on the search block to break a seriously ingrained habit like just typing Google. Even Bing.com, which I like a lot, has had to spend 6.5 ButtLoads of Cash to move the market share needle fractions of percentage points. And go ask Ask.com why they’re such a distant also ran. They probably don’t know because they’ve always had a reasonably decent offering. In fact, even the Wikipedia article on List of Search Engines doesn’t even scratch the surface of the thousands of tiny search start-ups begging for a slice of the multi-billion dollar search marketplace, be they visually oriented or not.

The Drill Down Options

Their left side breakdowns are really interesting. Really. For example, besides the “Standard View” vs. other options I’m still amazed they’ve generally released, is the “All Results” vs. “Social” and “Nearby.” Why? Because these are such arbitrary categories. After all, both social and nearby are subsets of Web. Prior options, such as Images, Video, etc. are simply types of media. (Though ok, News and Blogs are just subsets of web.) My point? They’re more so than ever before admitting that the channel matters. That the basic PageRank algorithm alone is not always enough to surface the best. It’s really interesting.

One thing conspicuously missing is some type of high level taxonomy. While a generalized taxonomy may be shockingly hard to create, disambiguation likely demands at least some attempt at this at some point. And I think we’ll see that from Google in some form as a next step. Whether it’s a structured thing or a tag cloud, who knows. But they’ll need to do something. One could argue the Wonder wheel does this a bit, but… it’s a bit weak in this regard. Ask.com has done a reasonable job of this for years with “Related Features” showing up on their result pages. In fact, once again, a variety of the alternative search engines have delved into this. But none have been able to make a big dent in the big Goog. Mostly because Google does a solid job or even a great job most of the time. And there is a cost / benefit to ongoing search. For serious search geeks, I refer you to Information Foraging Theory in Wikipedia. A quick overview is available in Human Hardware: Foraging for Infomration, by Peter Pirolli. But if you want to really dig in, get Pirolli’s book, Information Foraging Theory: Adaptive Interaction with Information. Anyhoo… it’s good to see Google finally shaking things up a bit and moving off the totally plain. I don’t know if someone had to drag Marissa Mayer kicking and screaming down this path or it just took a long time for the combination of technology and user ecosystem to evolve before she decided it was ok to go for it, but… good to see some more tools.