A Glimpse of Google’s Future?

You may or may not know, but Google tests hundreds of different versions of their search service every day.  They’ve turned their users into a giant set of unwitting testers who are constantly providing them feedback on how to improve their product.  This unparalleled ability to conduct tests is one of the skills that makes them currently unsurpassed in search.

Yesterday I turned into one of those testers.  While searching for a particular term at work, I came across this design:

Here’s what the same search looked like when performed in a different browser:

What can we glean from this?  Well, a few things:

Google’s test index (the number of documents is queries against) may be much bigger than it’s current index.  The test page returned 5.2M documents vs. 1.3M for the normal version

Location is going to become more important in your search (no surprise in an increasingly mobile world).  Note that in the test version, I can change my location from NYC.  This is important, as if I search for “Zanzibar”, I get returned the bar in Hell’s Kitchen as the first result, not the beautiful island off the coast of Africa

Finally, Google thinks that they type of content you’re looking for is as important as what you’re looking for.  If you were to click “More” under “Everything” in the test version, a list showing Images, Videos, etc. would have opened up (this normally appears at the top of the page).  Just like my employer or Best Buy, Google’s trying to make it easier for you to find info using faceted search.

Why type “Zanzibar photos” when you could type “Zanzibar” and then click “images”.  While that takes two steps, it allows you to easily flip between different types of info about Zanzibar, rather than having to re-type your query.

This is an interesting way for them to start to integrate all their different search properties together (Google, images, YouTube, scholar, books, etc.), and I hope it makes it into the real world.