Google offers instant previews, free inflight WiFi
Google has a couple of early holiday presents. It unwrapped one yesterday: free inflight WiFi Internet access on three airlines. The other came this morning: an optional, in-line preview of search results.
The latter affects more people, so I'll cover that first. Google's Instant Previews enable you to see a thumbnail view of a page listed in your search results, with the theoretically relevant bits highlighted. You have to activate this option first, after which any page with a preview available will feature a magnifying-glass icon on Google's results page.
Danny Sullivan's detailed writeup at Search Engine Land correctly notes that Google hasn't invented anything new. Microsoft's Bing provides text-only peeks at its search results, and Ask.com used to offer thumbnail-image previews.
I've tried Instant Previews and like it -- I often remember a page's looks better than its title or address, just as it can be easier to recall somebody's face than his name. But it doesn't seem to work with queries run through the search boxes in Safari and Firefox, even after I've enabled Instant Previews. I assume that Google will fix that, just as it's extended its Instant Search to some mobile browsers last week.
(About Instant Search ... I shrugged off its time-saving potential when it launched. But I have to admit that it's become helpful on trickier searches that don't yield the desired result immediately and instead require trying variations of the original query. I'd appreciate Instant Search even more if Google chief executive Eric Schmidt would stop sounding so creepy when he touts the virtues of Google knowing what you want.)
The free inflight WiFi deal, announced yesterday as a promotion for Google's Chrome browser, covers AirTran, Delta, and Virgin America flights from Nov. 20 through Jan. 2. All three airlines use GoGo's service, which normally runs from roughly $6 to $13 per flight.
This freebie follows up on last year's offer of free WiFi on Virgin America flights and in 54 airports last year, including BWI, Dulles and National.
I'd rather see the free airport WiFi return. I know some people love WiFi in the air enough to search for it before booking, but I remain a curmudgeonly skeptic -- and not just because I often fly United, which offers WiFi on only a handful of flights.
Look: I spend about eight hours each workday staring into one Web-connected screen or another. I treasure the opportunity to have a little enforced offline time, when nobody can reach me and there's little I can do but read, write, stare out the window or sleep. I'm not looking forward to inflight connectivity becoming ubiquitous, much less expected. Are you?
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