Google Recipes! Google Careers! Google Confusion! The UI Madness Continues

Item 3
on my 25 Things I
Hate About Google
list was "Stop confusing people. Pick a user interface and
go with it!" The past few days only prove my point, as I’ve seen everything from
Google Recipes to Google Careers being reported as new features while others
play with their cookies in order to get a green bar vertical search
implementation.

Look, it’s
Google Real Estate
!

Actually, it’s just results from Google Base that are now flowing into the
regular results through a
OneBox
display. Google
said
when Google Base launched that results would get integrated into regular Google.

Look, it’s Google
Recipes
!

Look, it’s

Google Careers
!

Nope, once again, it’s just Google Base results flowing into the regular
results. It’s the same thing as with the real estate listing integration above,
but it’s confusing to those who come across these listings because Google’s not
given any heads-up about the new implementation.

Here’s the Official Google Base
Blog
. See any mentions? Nada. Would it be so hard to explain that Google is
more heavily testing integrating Google Base results into regular Google for
randomly selected searchers? How about throwing up a few screenshots to
illustrate it? Maybe put an experimental feature on
Google Labs letting anyone who wants this
to try it.

Nah, that would be too easy. Instead, let’s just have people get all confused
about what the hell is going on.

It could be this is part of a grand Google master plan. The beta strategy
already works well for that double-dip of publicity. Put the product out in
beta, gather up the glory, then release it from beta for that second dose of
write-ups. Perhaps these non-disclosed alpha experiments are a way to triple
team the coverage. Get the buzz going as a select few see these experiments and
blog about them. Then do a beta. Then a final. Then move into Redmond and take
over Microsoft and….

Personally, I think it’s just lameness rather than a clever business
strategy. Google’s long tested new features by showing them select groups of
people. When I’ve asked them why they don’t disclose this testing more, it’s
always been a case of not wanting to mess up the "experiment" by skewing the
sample.

Googlers, those days are long gone. In a world of bloggers, keeping your
experiments quiet are over. For example, take the "news" of Google "new
interface," as Ars Technica
called it
this week. Which new interface would that be? There are so many to choose from.

Honestly, as I said in my 25 Hates piece, I wish I had the time to Photoshop
everything we’ve seen so far into a singular illustration of the Google to come.
In the meantime, here’s a bulletpoint recap:

  • Middle Of The Page Refinement: This is where Google inserts into
    the middle of the page results from a related — yet different — search than
    you originally did. Why? It’s an experiment at query refinement.

    It seems to have
    started
    last August with the results preceded by a "Dissatisfied? See results for:"
    message. It soon changed to a "See results for" message
    later than
    month.

    Today, it continues on, happening for some people but not all of them and
    still generating plenty of confusion. I know this firsthand, because hardly a
    week goes by without someone posting in our Search Engine Watch Forums for
    help/information/confirmation that Google’s doing this. We have a standing
    thread
    on the topic, created by merging multiple posts over time. Despite that,
    here’s someone
    posting
    about it afresh yesterday.

    The feature came under new discussion this month when it suggested results for
    "ashley cole gay" in response to queries for Ashley Cole, a UK footballer.
    Google "Ashley
    Cole Gay" Results Suggestion Prompts Questions From His Solicitor
    covers
    more about this.

    What do the Google help pages say about this feature? Nothing. Here’s the

    guide
    to Google’s search results page. This feature doesn’t get mentioned
    there. If you’re trying to figure out why this happens (as Ashley Cole’s
    solicitor was), you’re stuck with the official
    comment
    Google gave me back in August (it’s a test) or Google’s Matt Cutts
    explaining
    a bit more on his personal blog. Suffice to say, an official mention somewhere
    on Google itself at this point wouldn’t be amiss.
     

  • Google Groups/Google Books At Bottom Of Results: In late August,
    Google seems
    to have started putting links to Google Groups information at the bottom of
    the page. I think I sometimes still see that, but
    since
    mid-November, Google also puts "Try your search again on Google Book Search"
    at the bottom of the page.
     
  • Google Base Refinement Keywords: These
    came up at
    the beginning of January, links to take you to categories of information from
    Google Base. Maybe they’re still out there. Maybe not. Who knows?
     
  • Google Drop-Down Boxes: Because what didn’t work in 1998 ought to
    be good today. This is also from early January, when Google
    tested
    putting a drop-down box for different verticals on its home page.
     
  • Ads At Bottom Of Page: In mid-November, Google
    tested
    putting ads at the bottom of its pages. I just had someone ask me about these
    last week, so I guess for some, that test continues. Information on the Google
    site about it? Zilch.
     
  • Graphical Ads In Google Local: Hey, it’s
    ads with logos
    at Google Local this month, following on the earlier experiment with blue
    pins.
     
  • Green Bar Vertical Search Test: First
    spotted to
    my knowledge in December, this is the "new" test that’s got everyone buzzing
    this week. Credit seems to belong to Salvatore Aranzulla, who
    came across what
    appears to be a fresh batch of testing. He also explained how by changing your
    cookie, anyone could see this new implementation. Luca Conti

    translated
    the instructions into English from Italian, plus this

    site
    did the same, which

    Download Squad
    seems to have spotted. In the comments at Download Squad
    were instructions on how to paste some script into your browser to see the
    results. That hit
    Digg,
    which lead to simpler instructions at
    Google
    Blogoscoped
    and
    Ars Technica,
    if you want to see the results yourself. Just remember that you have to
    disable personalized search results to make them work, if you have those
    switched on.

And isn’t that great? Now Google’s got people all over the web possibly
screwing up their cookies to see this experiment. It’s all probably pretty safe
— if not, I’m sure someone would be screaming security concerns by now. But
there’s an overriding security concern that it’s probably not a great idea that
people are pasting JavaScript code into their browsers period. Next time, it
could be some adware/spyware thing changing Google’s search results (as they
have in the past), but people might think it’s another super-secret Google
experiment and begin merrily hacking away (and getting infected) to see what’s
up.

Solutions?

  1. Start talking officially about what you’re doing. You’ve got an
    official blog, freshly restored after you accidentally
    deleted it.
    Tell us when you’ve got these experiments going. That will help those of us
    who care know that it really is something you are doing. It will also help us
    all point at something official about it. And no, it won’t mess up your
    experiment. Few typical searchers probably read your blog. You can still
    experiment with them, though the reality remains, any experiment you do just
    leaks out as you see now. At the very least, get some more help information up
    about this stuff.
     
  2. Let people in voluntarily. As I explained, having people come up
    with hacks to see this stuff is silly and potentially dangerous. Throw these
    things up on Google Labs as well as letting them into the wild. Let people who
    voluntarily want to see Google Base results inline or whatever have a way to
    make that happen. Two pluses here. First, you don’t have the potential
    security issue. Second, you can isolate these people who explicitly want to
    play with the feature from your "control" group who really are seeing them as
    part of an experiment.
     
  3. Pick something. What? Half-a-year of testing middle of the page
    query refinement, and you still don’t know if you want to do it? It’s absurd.
    Decide yes or no. If yes, make it a feature that people can override if they
    want. If no, then at least we can have an end to people remaining confused
    about what they are seeing.