Google's home page, known for its elegant simplicity, has gotten a little more complex. New "tabs" were introduced yesterday, to give users easier access to the search engine's features.
Don't worry. Purists are unlikely to be upset by the changes. The tabs are simple, highlighted links sit above the search box.
The tabs allow users to more easily reach Google's other search databases: images, newsgroups and results from the Open Directory's human-compiled listings, in addition to Google's own crawler-built web page index.
"We created this tabbed interface look because we thought it was an easy way to give users access to the information we offer," said Google spokesperson Eileen Rodriguez.
The tabs also appear on the Google results page, letting users easily switch between search indexes, as desired. For example, if you did a regular search for "madonna," on the results page you could select the "Images" tab to switch from matching web pages about the singer to matching images.
Ironically, AltaVista -- which Google is oft-seen as usurping for those interested in "pure" search -- also went in for tabs in 1998, when the service grew more complex than just pure web search. After numerous redesigns, AltaVista finally dropped the tabs concept last May.
Of course, AltaVista did a lot more than add tabs, as the service grew. Its foray into being a portal, complete with a massive amount of new links and content added to the home page, is a major reason why even AltaVista admits it lost pure search users.
In contrast, Google proudly says that the latest changes actually reduced what few words were already on the home page by 30 percent. The company also says that the tabs have been found effective, in user testing.
"Using the tabs has increased usage in those areas and made it easier to access the information," Rodriguez said. In particular, she said there were significant increases in the take up of image and directory search.
Google said it evaluated several design options, including integrating matches from all its different databases into one page. However, the tabbed option was seen as most effective by users.
Google is also planning to go beyond indexing only web pages and PDF files, in the near future. Google won't say exactly which new document types are to be added, but it's fair to say that Microsoft Office formats, such as .doc and .xls, will probably be among them.
It is because so many people save important information in these formats that Google is likely to support them. That is the reason Google cited when it added support for Adobe Acrobat PDF files, back in February.
A relatively new power command also lets you narrow your search to find documents in particular formats. The command is filetype:, and you follow it with the extension you want to search for. For instance:
california power crisis filetype:pdf
brings back PDF files that contain the words "california power crisis." In contrast:
california power crisis filetype:asp
brings back Microsoft Active Server Pages (ASP) files, while
california power crisis filetype:html
brings back ordinary HTML files that end in .html, that contain the words. It will not bring back HTML files the end in .htm, however. Technically, Google considers those to be a different file type, simply because the ending is different.
By the way, you can also start your query with the filetype: command, should you prefer.
Keeping Tabs On AltaVista
The Search Engine Report, Feb. 3, 1998
When AltaVista expanded, it decided -- as Google is deciding now -- that tabs above the search box seemed best.
Fourth Time Lucky For AltaVista?
The Search Engine Report, June 4, 2001
And then the tabs were gone, as AltaVista struggles back to define itself as more a streamlined search service.
Google Does PDF & Other Changes
The Search Engine Report, Feb. 6, 2001
Discusses Google's implementation of PDF support.
Logitech and Google: The One-Click Search Engine
SiliconValley.internet.com, Aug. 21, 2001
Logitech iTouch keyboard users are to get a key dedicated to Google.
Why They're Agog over Google
BusinessWeek, Sept. 24, 2001
A look at Google's growth in traffic and business prospects. FYI, the latest from Google is that 3/4 of its income comes from advertising, not half.