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
Google Real Estate!
Actually, it’s just results from Google Base that are now flowing into the
regular results through a
OneBox display. Google
when Google Base launched that results would get integrated into regular Google.
Look, it’s Google
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
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
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.
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
on the topic, created by merging multiple posts over time. Despite that,
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.
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
Google gave me back in August (it’s a test) or Google’s Matt Cutts
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,
to have started putting links to Google Groups information at the bottom of
the page. I think I sometimes still see that, but
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
putting a drop-down box for different verticals on its home page.
- Ads At Bottom Of Page: In mid-November, Google
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
- Green Bar Vertical Search Test: First
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
which lead to simpler instructions at
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
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
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
- Start talking officially about what you’re doing. You’ve got an
official blog, freshly restored after you accidentally
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.
- 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.
- 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.