I wasn’t at Google’s now annual Searchology event last week because I was at a private equity conference in New York. Here’s a rundown of the announcements at Searchology.
Some commenting after the fact were saying a couple of these announcements and demos were motivated by perceived heat from Wolfram|Alpha, which just launched. I would disagree. Wolfram isn’t really a threat to Google, although Google clearly feels more general pressure and the need to evolve its UI and presentation of results. Microsoft’s Kumo successor will soon launch. I’ve been using it casually and like the look and feel quite a bit. I haven’t yet done any systematic testing of relevance however.
Regardless of where the pressure is coming from it’s a good thing.
While I recognize there’s a lot going on and progress happening, I believe things need to change and evolve further in search. Here’s a page that I think exemplifies some of the problems right now: a search result for a press release put out last week (“AT&T Leads the U.S. in Smartphones and Integrated Devices“):
Because everyone is trying to rank everyone picks up these releases and tries to get additonal page views from them. Putting aside the need for Google to be evenhanded among competitors for the moment, why do I as a user need to see 15 links to the identical information?
This problem often arises in the local context too — especially for a business name search (“Nagano Sushi San Francisco“):
The map at the top provides the desired information quickly but the links below are essentially duplication of contact information, similar to the press releases in the above example. In the local category search context it’s somewhat less of an issue and the 10 pack provides name and number information, see, e.g., “Boston Dentist” (though there are issues about accuracy of data and hijacking, etc.):
However there’s still lots of duplication and apparent redundancy. Travel used to be the worst, with tons of affiliate sites popping up for every hotel lookup. Google has largely addressed that problem.
I believe that Google needs to do some things with the interface so that I don’t have to see this kind of duplication of content. Publishers that operate directory or local search sites would be likely to cry foul if Google picked a single, authoritative site and then buried everyone else below a plus box or some similar device (see, e.g., news).
But this is what I’m calling for in effect — something that makes the interface cleaner and perhaps uses images or other icons to enable me to more quickly get to content and avoid the click and back button problem.
Google and Yahoo! have been experimenting with favicons in paid and organic search results. Yahoo!’s Search Monkey push the idea much further to allow publishers to control presentation of their listings. I favor experiments like this, although visual clutter becomes a real possibility, because users can quickly differentiate between trusted and anonymous sites and get to results.
I haven’t thought all this through as carefully as I probably should before posting but I did the AT&T press release search this morning and that’s what got me going.
Do others agree or disagree? Do you think that these problems I complain about don’t really exist or have largely been addressed?