At the Searchology event yesterday, Marissa Mayer, Google's VP of search products and user experience, introduced Google Experimental, a new tool that will allow users to opt in to various tests that Google is doing.
It has been Google's policy to roll out potential new features or interface tests to small groups of users before going live with all users. This of course leads to frustration for SEOs and other Google-watchers who want to see what these new features and interfaces look like.
Now, those leading-edge users can sign up for these tests at the Google Experimental site, and they will be added to the test group. Google will continue to conduct random tests with users, since the self-selected group using the new tool would skew results, but Mayer said she hopes that that group will be able to provide Google with valuable feedback as well.
The first tests available on the site are timeline and map views, keyboard shortcuts, and left- or right-hand navigation options.
The concept of Views was introduced by Mayer yesterday as a way to extract structure from unstructured information. For the timeline view, for example, a user could see the history of the civil rights movement throughout history. With a map view, a user could plot out the locations of golf courses on the PGA tours. Other kinds of views will continue to be added.
Keyboard shortcuts allow a user to navigate search results with a keyboard, in much the same way that users have been able to navigate around Gmail. The navigation location preferences allow a user to test out a layout that moves the new overhead navigation to the left or right side of search results.
Google Experimental will not replace Google Labs, which will continue to house standalone applications and products to test. With Experimental, users need only go to the site to sign up, and then all searches on Google thereafter will include the test functionality or interface, until a user opts out of a test.