Google imPresses the Press

May 11, 2006

Topics: Google.

Conceptually, Google’s Press day has revealed an incredible variety of exciting and inspiring projects. From Google Co-op, a project to allow social creation of vertical search tools (very web 2.0!) to a new version of Google Desktop (now with Google Gadgets!), and finally the keyword researcher’s new favorite tool, Google Trends, an offspring of the Google Zeitgeist data.

There’s little I can say on these new offerings which wouldn’t be merely riding on the backs of the incredible amount which has already been said in the blogosphere. Matt Cutts has posted twice on the subject so far, with the promise of more.

Search Engine Watch has provided extensive documentation of the coverage of Google’s Press day (from Danny Sullivan), and reviews from the likes of Greg Sterling and Aaron Wall are already floating around.

One big thing that’s floating around seems to be a somewhat open question of what, exactly, Google Co-op is. Some seem to see it as a new entry in vertical search. In fact, the rhetoric calling Google Co-op a social entry into vertical search seems to be fairly strong. It’s what I called it above – but is that really accurate?

After trying a quick search comparison between the normal Google search box and the box within Google’s "Destination Guides" I do see some differences in the results. Chiefly, the normal search returned 136,000,000 results and the presumably more limited search returned only 20,500,000.

Mostly, however, using Destination Guides, I get a table of Google’s "labels" within the Destination Guide category. Clicking on one of these labels immediately refines my search to information with this tag. I clicked on the label "Museums" and found myself looking at a number of results very clearly focused on Minneapolis museums. The search box command had shifted to minneapolis more:museum_activities – presumably, a command picking up the label "museum_activities". (The more: command has no effect on normal Google search results, by the way.)

Now, the funny thing here, is that I also received a similar table of labels through the normal Google search box. Similar, but with fewer labels. This is not something I recall seeing in searches before. Have I randomly been tossed into an interface test today? Here are two screenshots for comparison:

Normal Google Results

Google – Normal

Normal Google Results

Google – Destination

It rather spoils my plans if I’m not getting normal results in Google, so I’d be interested if other people are seeing the same effect on a search like this. This seems like a pretty clear occurrence of vertical creep. With Google’s confessed
practice of random user testing
, it can be difficult to be certain when you’re getting the results everybody else is.

On the basis of this test I found no practical difference between results using Google Co-op and the usual Google Search. However, it’s unclear to me whether or not I may have experienced a vertical creep effect which gave me some of Google’s Co-op functionality (or perhaps some other vertical?) within the Google search results.

Is Google Co-op a vertically oriented search tool? I think so. It does not create a single interface to a single vertical, however – instead, it creates a portal by which you can access a wide variety of vertical results pages. Google’s marketing of this through the Press Day was as a user-contributive effort. Without some serious interface and explanation revisions this is unlikely to take off, however. And without a concerted user base involved in creating these vertical channels Google has provided practically nothing.

One of the key elements to Google Co-op, which I’ve barely even touched on, is the ability to "subscribe" to Co-op contributors. According to Google, a subscription causes "ll of that provider’s labels and subscribed links [to] be added to your Google search results for relevant searches. The labels and links provide new and useful ways to refine your searches."

I’ve looked at search refinement here; and I love it. It provides the ability to make a search, refine it within a labeled category, then clear your label to try a different path. It would be great if you could refine using multiple labels; but I’m happy for now. The first benefit, "adding a provider’s labels and subscribed links to your Google search results for relevant searches" seems quite airy to me, however.

Are they implying that without a subscription, they won’t provide these in relevant searches? That’s bad. Are they implying that providers will get a boost in search results if you’ve subscribed? That’s fine, since presumably if you’ve subscribed to one of these providers you actually are interested in saying their results first. However, that’s not actually what it says, so I’m left a bit confused.

Well, this has been longer than I anticipated. I usually don’t edit blog entries unless I have a very good reason, but I’m certainly tempted to remove a statement from my second paragraph…"There’s little I can say on these new offerings which". I’m hoping, at least, that I’ve avoided the second half of that statement.

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