Google is one of the leaders among search engines today, although
Yahoo, MSN, Ask and others are certainly hot on its heels. Google has
certainly made tremendous advances in search technology - their
algorithms, spam-detection capabilities, even commercial aspects like
monetizing the long tail of online advertising (e.g. the Google/Intuit
partnership), are peerless, and they continue to focus on improving
regular web search. Interestingly,though, we have not seen any
significant changes to the design of their Search Results in
a long time; the results display is still heavily text-oriented, listed
linearly with snippets, and provides jumping-off points to the target
urls. I don't know about you, but to me, the results display screen
seems so - 1.0.
I'm sure that Google has plans for major upgrades to the results
display page in the future - programmers are probably working
feverishly on it even at this moment! (Reminds me of the old TV line:
"Operators are standing by to take your call!") In the spirit of
contributing to these improvements, here's my
wish list of features I hope to see in Google Results Display 2.0:
1. Tag Clouds: Since a picture is worth a thousand words,
here's a screenshot of the Quintura search tool from their official web
site. This handy tool, available as a Windows app download, provides
very effective visualization of results - it shows you a tag cloud
(visual semantic map) with inter-relationships between tags and
dynamic result sorting/filtering based on tag selection. This allows easy
results navigation and drill-down capability even for non-technical users;
for good measure, it lets you target your search query at a variety of
different online seach engines.
Now, tag clouds are not necessarily new - blogging packages have had
them for a while. But applying them in this way, to provide a smooth,
effortless zoom-and-pan capability for search results, enhances the
ease and effectiveness of search immensely.
2. Multiple-resolution URLs: The Digital Object Identifier is a
technical standard for persistently identifying a piece of intellectual
property, regardless of location. One of the most interesting side
effects of using DOIs to refer to content is the ability to link a URL to
multiple locations; in other words, instead of a single hyperlink,
these super-urls allow users to choose among a variety of destinations
[should we call it URL 2.0? :-)]. Of course, users can use these
urls to jump to the first/main location just like a regular link. Another
to pop up a menu.
Amazon uses these types of urls extensively, such as in their
"Search Inside" feature. I can imagine a variety of uses for these urls in
Google results links: for example, allowing us to jump to different
versions of the target page (content, snippet, thumbnail, authority, ...),
view tags associated with the result, or to jump into a specific location
in the result, and so on.
Separately, the use of DOIs to positively identify intellectual content,
regardless of location, in search results could make things
very interesting, but that's a whole other post.
3. Structured data - in Results! Yes, I know that it sounds weird - we
usually think about structured data (metadata) in the context of
search criteria, an increasingly common feature especially highlighted by
vertical search engines. But what if we turn this concept on its head,
and provide structured data about the results? Apart from being a boon
to crawlers, meta search engines and web service mashups, it could also
provide additional value to human readers.
For example, when searching for a job, a user is likely to specify
metadata like geographical location - say, a city. But what if I was willing
to move to get a great job? I might want to search by specifying other
criteria, but I would still appreciate viewing the location for each of the
results, without having to follow each link. When searching for recipes,
getting a calorie count and preparation time automatically with each
result (without clicking!) would be very helpful. The existing "OneBox"
feature is already a step in this direction.
4. Authority of results: Allowing users some control over the authority
of results, a la Technorati provides value. Sometimes, we
might wish to expand the scope of search results to allow lower levels
of authority - for example, to enhance freshness, such as when
following a news story, or to find obscure references or unusual
insights. I'm sure the Google algorithm optimizes across all of these
factors to provide a great experience on average, but having control
over that, say in advanced options, doesn't hurt. In other words, users
should be able to specify display criteria in addition to search criteria.
5. Related services: This is an area in which Vertical Search engines,
with their deep domain focus, excel - Google appears weaker in this
area than other horizontal search engines like Yahoo (ironically,
searching for "union square restaurants san francisco" in Google gives
this as the second result: a Yahoo travel portal; searching for the same
thing in Yahoo gives a Yahoo local portal. Plain-vanilla Google Results,
on the other hand, gives us the usual text list in the standard
header-snippet-url format, but with the distinctive added feature of
6. Social aspects (Bonus item): I'm sure the big-G is already all over
this one, but I'll say it anyway: incorporating user behavior and
feedback into search results, could provide tremendous value in
improving search results, especially given the size of Google's user
base. I know that Google already uses data mining and user behavior
analysis in all kinds of ways to improve page rank, results ranking, the
"did you mean ...." feature and others. But it would be great if Google
could provide some explicit view into user behavior, in the results page;
e.g. display an indication of how many users clicked/liked/dugg a
particular result, where other users with this search query ended their
search, whether a majority of users rated highly this particular
result, and so on. Amazon, of course, is an early user of this approach
- e.g. "other books bought by people who bought this book" ...
Now, I realize that because of its wide audience, Google wants to make
changes slowly, without risking confusion on the part of any of its
users. So far, Google has done an admirable job of keeping the main
search and results pages simple for ordinary users. Perhaps these
display options could go on to an "Advanced Results" page, similar to
So what do folks think? Do you agree with, or object violently to, any
of the above? Please feel free to let me know in the comments section.
Do you have any ideas for improving the results? What's a good
place to start a discussion about the features that we users
would like to see [Danny Sullivan's and Matt Cutts' blogs come to mind],
so we can bubble up the most popular ones to the top, and bring them
to Google's attention?
That's the responsibility of being the search leader - Google is
now our Search engine, and as users, we care deeply about
what features they do and don't implement!