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Google debuts 'Instant' search

So this is what all the fuss was about: Google's latest tweak to its search engine -- heralded over the last two days with curious changes to the company's home-page logo -- allows you to see search results before you finish typing a query.

Google Instant is the next logical extension of the search engine's "auto-complete" feature, which suggests search queries matching what you've typed so far. It also represents a vaguely frightening statement about our collective attention span online -- and how much Google claims to know about our interests.


It works like this: If you're signed into Google and run a modern browser (Mozilla Firefox 3.0 or newer, Microsoft's Internet Explorer 8, Apple's Safari 5 and version 5 or newer of Google's Chrome) and start typing a query on Google's home page, the site will display links matching your query after you've typed the first letter.

For example, typing just "w" yielded links showing the current weather for the District. Revising and extending that query to "wa" caused Google to spotlight links for Wal-Mart; "was" yielded links to The Post's Web properties. (These results, like Google's ordinary results, are tailored to a signed-in users' location; a friend in Portland, Ore., tweeted that "k" yielded info about one of the city's TV stations, while here it directed me to pages about King's Dominion.)

Instant also shies away from providing previews to objectionable content. Attempting to type more than the first half of a common four-letter word beginning with "f" caused Google to stop suggesting links.

The Mountain View, Calif., company seems quite proud of the time Google Instant can save, bragging that this option "saves the average searcher two to five seconds per search."

I hope that doesn't become Instant's primary selling point -- unless we really have become a race of info-hamsters, running ever faster on our exercise wheels.

Instant looks more interesting when seen as a way to turn a search into a conversation: You type a query, see what Google suggests for a match, then revise, check its suggestions again, revise further, and so on. Except instead of having to click the "Back" button repeatedly, all this happens on one page.

But to get any benefit out of this option (you can turn it off with a link to the right of the search box), some of Google's most frequent users will have to break longstanding habits. Instant doesn't work in the search boxes that browsers provide as a shortcut for Web queries. Google will need a few months to extend Instant to there -- and to its mobile search site.

If you're not signed into Google, you may not see Instant for another couple of days, and users in other countries will have to wait longer.

But if Instant is available for you, give it a try, and let me know what you think. Was it worth the mysterious buildup to today's announcement? Does this seem like something you've been waiting for? And, for extra credit: How many keystrokes does it take before Instant produces a link to relevant information about you?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  September 8, 2010; 2:56 PM ET
Categories:  Digital culture , Search  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Another day, another goofy Google logo
Next: Apple offers App Store review guidelines (and updates iPhone software)


omg. I fricking hate it already. Google, if you're listening....even if I turn Instant off (which I already have done) entering anything in the search bar wipes my background image away, which is incredibly, incredibly annoying. I keep an important image of reference material as my google background and I can't have the screen flushing every time I do a google search. FIX IT

Posted by: Alaric1 | September 8, 2010 3:18 PM | Report abuse

Don't like it. I often refer to my job as a paid googler. I'm online all day conducting searches for info on people and corporations. If the google instant had been correct at least once today I might have given it a chance.

I didn't find that it saved me time. It took me longer since I took a few seconds to glance through what it brought up to see if it was what i needed.

Posted by: Redial1 | September 8, 2010 3:54 PM | Report abuse

TURN IT OFF. I can 't stand it. The latest in a world where machines try to think for me, based on the premise that I'm stupid and lazy. It's bad enough that Word fills in your address bar on an email based on some obscure email you sent 13 months ago; anything like this and I will PAY people to tell me how to turn it off.

Posted by: cbl55 | September 8, 2010 3:55 PM | Report abuse

Instant is really about data mining so Google can INSTANTly market more crap to users.


Posted by: gce1356 | September 8, 2010 4:03 PM | Report abuse

The point is help, if your only typing the first two letters of what your looking for then glancing through the results and not finding what your looking for. I am looking for information on Furesomide (salix). I wont stop at fu or fur your better off typing more than half of what you need or if it has more than one phrase type just the first part then see what it gets you. If you rely solely on the fact that its working for you its not very effective. work with it instead of making it do the work for you.

Posted by: Stojia | September 8, 2010 4:07 PM | Report abuse

As a friend of mine in SEO mentioned, type a 'T' and Target comes up. How much have they paid to be the first 'T' word???

Posted by: Corn_Laden | September 8, 2010 4:33 PM | Report abuse

Adding to the clamor: don't like it.

For God's sake, just let people type in a search term. I have no problem hitting Enter to get my search results.

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | September 8, 2010 4:54 PM | Report abuse

Won't let me get rid of it!!! HATE IT!!, GOOGLE instant & GOOGLE WEB search.WHY can't I get rid of it; NOT a NOVICE.I'll just have to get rid of GOOGLE, which I have always loved........leelee

Posted by: leelee21 | September 8, 2010 6:27 PM | Report abuse

Gee, I rather like it. However I am confused by all the folks who are VERY VERY ANGRY(!!!!) about this feature. It's just an option. If you don't like it, then turn it off. No one is forcing you to use it if you don't want to. And leelee21, who is "not a novice", see where it says "instant is on." There is an little arrow-head next to the text. Click on the arrow and you can turn it off. Guess you don't have to get rid Google after all. And cbl55, ok I told you how to turn it off (as did Rob), what are you going to pay us? Granted it will be used for data mining. If you don't like that, then turn it off - and don't forget to get rid of your supermarket-discount/data-mining and credit cards too. So here's the plan kids; take a deep breath, have a glass of beer or wine, come back to your computer and turn off the feature. Now your Google world is just like it was yesterday and all that scary stuff is gone.

Posted by: rodger3 | September 8, 2010 7:12 PM | Report abuse

Reminds me of automated phone attendants.

"You have entered hamster wheel. Choose 1 for hamster wheel. Choose 2 for hamster wheel game. Choose 3 for silent hamster wheel. Choose 4 for human hamster wheel."

Posted by: Bob_Dobbs | September 8, 2010 8:32 PM | Report abuse


I'm not very very angry. I am annoyed though - and that's because I'm a usability and accessibility professional.

The rapid changes are confusing and just not necessary. And I'm leery about how this will impact the in-browser and in-page search experience - it may unnecessarily throw off existing pages or tangle up browsers.

I'm curious if Google did any sort of broad market survey and testing to see if this is a feature that people were looking for, or were just very, very impressed with themselves.

I'm glad you like it, but I'm just not sure of the necessity of this "advance".

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | September 8, 2010 10:59 PM | Report abuse

Google screwed up with this upgrade. The Google Instant feature is interesting, and it's fine to have it as an option. However, in setting Google Instant as an option, Google killed the option to turn off autocomplete for Search Suggestions. Previously, anybody who didn't like Google to provide Search Suggestions could click to turn off this feature. No more. If you don't want Google Instant, then you are stuck with autocomplete.

The big problem with this is that most of the same people who had disabled autocomplete are the ones who won't like Google Instant, and since Bing still allows people to turn off autocomplete, a lot of people may soon be migrating to a new search engine.

For me, autocomplete is annoying for two reasons. First, the words flashing across the screen are visually distracting. I generally know precisely what I want to search for, and my searches almost never miss their marks. A jumble of suggestions jumping out at me actually slows my search down.

Second, the autocomplete more or less prevents me from using one of Google's best features, the "I'm feeling lucky" button. With the autocomplete suggestions in the way, I have to click a couple of extra times to get at the "I'm feeling lucky button." At that point, I might as well have just gone to the search results page and clicked the top link. I use "I'm feeling lucky" in a quarter or more of my searches, but with autocomplete, there is no reason even to have this button because it is blocked, meaning that it no longer saves any time.

For Google, I can see why they want to push users toward Google Instant and Search Suggestions. Certain search terms are more profitable for Google than others, and by planting those search terms in people's minds, Google stands to build revenue in its search ads. By flashing results instantly, too, Google is able to cycle through several different sets of search ads before a user's search string is completed. These ads may only flash on the screen for a split second, but that's enough for a term to lodge in the brain, and a few people might actually backtrack to look at some things that they otherwise wouldn't have searched for.

In essence, though, Google is making money by annoying me as a customer, and that's not a very good business model in my mind. I tried a few searches on Google Instant, and I don't particularly like it. I have fast fingers on the keyboard, and it takes me a second to type in most searches, so Google Instant doesn't particularly save me time. If anything, the rapid shifting of the page distracts me visually and slows me down. Meanwhile, I've always disliked the autocomplete feature for Search Suggestions for many of the same reasons, and because it gets in the way of "I'm feeling lucky," which is still the fastest way to get to most web pages.

I have to think that Google will add back the third option of turning off both Google Instant and autocomplete. Otherwise, hello Bing!

Posted by: blert | September 9, 2010 12:44 AM | Report abuse

Here, by the way, is Google's support thread with a Google employee's (universally panned) explanation of why Google is forcing people to choose between Google Instant and autocomplete, but not letting people opt out of both:

Apparently, the goal is a "unified search experience," which is pretty much to say that Google wants us all to use the same search terms that the company helps define because these are the terms that garner premiums in search advertising. If everybody searches the same way with the same terms, Google potentially makes a lot more money.

Posted by: blert | September 9, 2010 12:51 AM | Report abuse

Also glad you like google instant ,but I don't. As I said, I'm not a novice, I've been working with computers for 20 years & also teaching adult computer students,including Trouble shooting computers for the last 5 years.
Obviously ,I'm not 21, but rather 70-going on 21...I know what is needed to eliminate google instant & web search data collection , but my point was, I did what they Instructed, Several Times,with NO results! As chasmosaur1 stated, I know how to type And Press Enter, I donot like this new annoying feature... FIX IT Google, so THE choice option WORKS! leelee21

Posted by: leelee21 | September 9, 2010 1:11 AM | Report abuse

Thank you so much for your detailed explanation. The information was much appreciated.That's it exactly,It's Very visually distracting! I also know precisely what I want to search for,& type fast. This is so annoying,& slowing me down. If Google doesn't give us the option of turning off BOTH Google Instant,& Autocomplete by daytime Thurs.9/9/10, Goodby Google...( I can't get anything accomplished with the Google Instant Mess), which i will regret, because I have promoted it, & have been so pleased with the way Google search previously worked.
An equally annoyed customer,I will have to unteach those I taught about Google search. leelee21

Posted by: leelee21 | September 9, 2010 2:07 AM | Report abuse

I hate this concept, it's so distracting and obviously can't be switched off as you get autocomplete instead. I spend half the day day searching as part of my job, I guess I will learn to blot this out like an overly loud PC fan. I can see google is earning from this but it perpetuates the notion that internet users are total idiots and need everything dumbed down in this case via stupid features that imagine they are clever. If I run into a google software developer in a bar after work one evening I'll be sure to supply a variety of descriptive options.

Posted by: gb836 | September 9, 2010 5:03 AM | Report abuse

Just go to Google's SSL search site, You can avoid instant search, pac-man games, bouncing balls, Fu Manchu's birthday, and any other Google annoyances. And it keeps the autocomplete feature.

Posted by: tristesse27 | September 9, 2010 6:07 AM | Report abuse

HATE IT! The typing is jerky now, bring back the search button!

Posted by: mcsquared65 | September 9, 2010 7:43 AM | Report abuse

Worst thing I've found about it--so far--is that if I continued typing in letters WITHOUT CHOOSING ANY OF GOOGLE'S SUGGESTIONS and eventually got to the point of clicking on one that was what I'd wanted, then used my back button to get back to the site I'd been on before doing the search, I had to back up through two or three search pages for items I DID NOT CHOOSE and Google shouldn't have generated search pages for at all. Maybe it was because I was deliberately typing slowly to watch what happened with the new feater, but this behavior makes no sense to me and has the potential to be very annoying.

Posted by: moxilator | September 9, 2010 8:05 AM | Report abuse

I don't like the feature, but what I dislike more is that the comments so far include two identical postings about a "strange story" that I saw in comments about other articles yesterday, and one is from a "wholesale supplier" of shoes it appears. Why can't this be filtered out just like they filter curse words?

Posted by: tojo45 | September 9, 2010 8:22 AM | Report abuse

I don't know what the fuss is about. It does not take long to get used to and I don't find it annoying at all. Rob touched on the bigger point - I typically use the search box in the browser, not In some cases I think I'll just stick with the browser.

Posted by: slar | September 9, 2010 8:49 AM | Report abuse

My reaction is akin to what blert described: "For me, autocomplete is annoying for two reasons. First, the words flashing across the screen are visually distracting. I generally know precisely what I want to search for, and my searches almost never miss their marks. A jumble of suggestions jumping out at me actually slows my search down."

When I'm using google, I don't need visual and conceptual distractions offered by brain-dead google lists. Perhaps I'll be giving Bing a try.

Posted by: TeresaBinstock | September 9, 2010 9:48 AM | Report abuse


Totally get what you and Rob are saying. But Google has plans to roll this out in various search boxes, so I'm not sure it's something people will be able to avoid if they want to continue to use Google.

Because I, too, only go to the Google home page when I hear about a new logo - otherwise, it's the embedded search window in my browser. But that brings me to Google - if I have to refine my search, then I'm back to the same negative usability issues.

I'm sure I'd get used to it over time - compared to some other web "advancements", it's not THAT bad. It is, however, a step towards the Microsoft model: most people use us, so we're going to shove something we think you'll like down your throat. That's not a good step.

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | September 9, 2010 1:32 PM | Report abuse

I turned it off as soon as I read this piece and tried it once. I had already begun trying out other search engines to see if they give results similar to Google, which they do. This just convinced me it's time to stay away from Google except when absolutely necessary.

Posted by: darkglobe5 | September 9, 2010 2:58 PM | Report abuse

HATE IT!!! and I never 'yell' online.

Visually distracting to this designer's eye . . . less is more, a little blank space is pleasing. I know what I'm looking for when I begin a search and I don't need suggestions, thank you very much!

Posted by: talitha1 | September 9, 2010 4:10 PM | Report abuse

:.This Google feature is nothing new. I have been using this feature for the longest time...

Posted by: Obamarama1 | September 9, 2010 6:10 PM | Report abuse

I ABSOLUTELY HATE IT! It is a big distraction. Most of the time the suggestions are not really what I want. It gets it right when I am almost finish typing. In the meantime, I am distracted by the changes on results as I typed. IT is actually pretty slow on IE7. Not a time saver at all.

Posted by: straight_arrow | September 10, 2010 1:23 AM | Report abuse

I don't want Google Instant. I don't want autocomplete. Why did that guy say in an earlier comment we can just turn it off? NO. You can't. I don't need a bunch of their predictive ideas popping up at me. Google is whack.

This is my 2nd day of using Bing, and I'm getting used to it. Bing lets us turn off autocomplete. My new search verb is to Bing it.

Posted by: dominion2 | September 10, 2010 2:40 AM | Report abuse

It's certainly not something I was waiting for and, in fact, I didn't see a need for it till Google tied to create it for me. I just think this is another mind-numbing ploy that adds zero value to my life and for sure doesn't save any significant amount of time: Http://

Posted by: Mansibhatia | September 10, 2010 10:16 PM | Report abuse

This is no big deal and it certainly isn't the "new dawn" Brin described.

My 2 favorite search engines have had this feature for years - Yahoo and Ask.

How could the tech media not know this?

Posted by: lquarton | September 11, 2010 3:44 AM | Report abuse

people above are confusing traditional type-ahead autocomplete with this new feature. This is a new feature, and an annoying one.

What's more annoying is you cannot turn off all autocomplete functionality on Google Search, so people above saying "der peepul, you can turn it off" they don't understand that the option that has been eliminated is to turn off *all* autocomplete.

Previous versions of Google Search allowed you to opt out. About once every 3 weeks Google would change your settings without asking you, because Google WANTS you to use it, but you could s witch it off.

A major point being missed by other people above is: many users who CHOOSE not to use any kind of type-ahead autocomplete do so because they depend on the "memory" of past searches (not Google History-different animal) that is part of your browser's (like Firefox) form history. So, I might want to Search for something that I have looked up before and that is no longer possible with Google.

So----I was a very very early Google and gmail adopter----I just switched my homepage and default search engine to Bing!

I kinda like it.

And to the person above who tells people to go take a chill pill or whatever that cool cucumber bleeper bleeper said: the reason people are enraged is Google's
unspeakable arrogance and hypocritical approach to treating users like human beings. You might not mind being force-fed a very aggressive company-oriented usr experience or having your data minded without your ability to choose, consent. or opt out. But many people resent it like hell.

And, well...these boot were made for walkin' cya Google!

Posted by: susandoran | September 11, 2010 8:03 PM | Report abuse

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