Google (NSDQ: GOOG) just announced a major update to its search engine, releasing a new feature called Google Instant that automatically shows search results as a user types. During a demonstration this morning, Google VP Marissa Mayer showed how a user could type in a term like “fauv” and immediately Google would show results for “fauvism.” “There’s even a psychic element to it,” she said, explaining that the search engine was already predicting the full-term the user was planning to enter.
A later demo, which generated some “oohs” from the audience, showed how a user could type just the letter “w” and Google would immediately return the weather in their city on the results page, expecting that the user wanted to know what the local weather forecast was.
Mayer said the average search takes 25 seconds, and Google had previously spent most of its effort cutting back on the one second it takes to return results, rather than the 9 seconds people spend on average to enter a search terms or the 15 seconds they typically take selecting results. She said that, on average, “Instant” eliminates two to five seconds from the search process.
The new feature — the latest of several major updates that Google has unveiled this year — is launching in the U.S. today and will launch in the U.K., France, Italy, Germany, Spain and Russia “over the next weeks.” Executives also said the company was working on bringing the feature to mobile phones, which they said would be “especially useful” since people on-the-go are particularly interested in faster results.
It’s already live for me, and here’s what stands out: The whole experience can be somewhat dizzying, since the results page refreshes as you type. The home page experience on Google.com is also extremely different, since immediately when you enter even one single letter, you are immediately sent over to the results page. In fact, there’s no longer a need to click the “search” button on any Google page it seems, since results show up whether you select the button or not.
As several reporters pointed out during the question and answer session, there’s also a much greater emphasis put on the top results that show up, since users can select any of the suggested terms to immediately see updated listings, which is likely a more attractive option than having to scroll through pages of results.
Google executives said there are no changes to the way “we serve and rank ads,” although it’s possible that the way users interact with them might, if they spend less time overall searching and more of the time they do spend on Google focused on the first several results. “We are focused on users and we believe that will be good for our advertisers,” Mayer said. Asked how users had reacted during testing, she said that only “a very small percentage” had selected to turn the feature off.
Here’s Google’s video explaining how Instant works: