AOL Enhances Search with FullView Results

AOL has rolled out a slick new search interface that automatically integrates Google-powered web search results with multimedia, local or other content from AOL and its partners.

The new service, called AOL Search with FullView, is available to the entire AOL Network audience, including AOL.com, AOL Search, AIM, MapQuest and all AOL clients.

FullView is designed to help you automatically discover more information relevant to your search, including videos, images, local results and other query-specific types of information without the need to query those sources individually.

"We wanted to address some of the frustrations we found both in search in general as well as in our own product," said Dariusz Pacsuzki, Vice President of Marketing for AOL Search.

FullView results have similarities to Google's OneBox results and Ask's Smart Answers, both of which are triggered when your query has relevant information found beyond text-based web search results—for example, news or images.

But AOL has pushed this idea further, dedicating the entire right rail of the result page to FullView results, and for many types of queries the range and type of content that's surfaced is impressive—particularly when a query triggers video or audio search results, one of AOL's strong suits.

For example, a search for "the beatles" brings up ten standard web search results powered by Google, but the FullView results include several category specific "modules" including a photo and short bio of the band from AOL Music, four video results, two audio results, a discography, image results and news results.

In each of these modules, a "click to expand" link opens additional results. Another link lets you limit results to a particular category, such as images or video. Mousing over some types of results, such as thumbnails for video or images, displays a floating box with additional information about the result.

The modules change depending on the subject of your query. A search for "starbucks, santa fe, NM" triggers local search results in the FullView pane. A search for "gps" triggers shopping results from AOL partner Shopzilla.

AOL has created "recipes" that determine which kinds of modules are displayed for a wide variety of queries. It's also monitoring the effectiveness of each recipe, and plans to move modules around on result pages based on how effective they are. The relative positioning of modules is an editorial decision now, but AOL plans to automate the process, eventually even moving toward positioning modules based on your own search history and behavioral preferences.

Content in the modules currently used in FullView results comes from AOL or its partners, but the company plans to introduce an open API that will allow anyone to submit content for potential inclusion in FullView results.

With the new release, AOL has also improved the performance of the "SmartBox Suggestions" query autocomplete feature. Rather than trying to guess user intent, the autocomplete feature now suggests the most popular queries matching the characters you type.

Search history has also been streamlined. Mousing over the search history icon brings up a box displaying a list of your most recent searches. From this box, you can clear your search history, turn search history off, or click through to a full page where you can manage your search history.

On this page you can sort your history by date or search term, and all of the results that you clicked through and viewed are displayed as well—a handy way to recall a particular page that you may have visited some time ago. AOL still maintains just 30 days of search history.

The new design of AOL search will also appeal to people who don't like ads in search results. The new design has a maximum of three ads at the top and bottom of results, with links to sponsored links in related categories—but that's it.

The new AOL search with FullView results is fast, visually appealing, and offers a rich variety of results that you have to work harder to find at most other search engines. Pacsuzki told me that AOL's goal was to find "ways for AOL to credibly differentiate itself in search," and they've succeeded admirably with this new release.

About the author

Chris Sherman is a frequent contributor to several information industry journals. He's written several books, including The McGraw-Hill CD ROM Handbook and The Invisible Web: Uncovering Information Sources Search Engines Can't See, co-authored with Gary Price. Chris has written about search and search engines since 1994, when he developed online searching tutorials for several clients. From 1998 to 2001, he was About.com's Web Search Guide.