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Google Experimenting with New Search Views



Google started promoting their Experimental Search product more actively last week. This week, they’re making the formal announcement of new views in Experimental Search—with a familiar-sounding rationale.

There have been a lot of recent improvements to web search, but the appearance of results themselves has been pretty constant — 10 or so web pages in a vertical list. Frequently this is exactly the right format, but for some searches you need more options and more control. That’s why we’ve created our experimental search page to let you try out some of our newest ideas.

Now, Experimental Search isn’t new news—and neither is a search interface that’s not just a list of 10 blue links. However, these particular views are purpose-specific and don’t just make the search page look nicer—they could make it easier to find and understand data.

Timeline view

google experimental search timeline view
The timeline view provides a frequency chart to show the number of references to dates in the search results. On the right side, you can narrow the time window. You can also zoom in on a period on the timeline above the results.

This view is good to track references over time, but probably isn’t what you’re expecting to find for a timeline of “The Great War.” To me, a timeline displays specific events in chronological order, not just a chart to give you an idea that things were happening around this date and this date.

Map view

google experimental search map view
The map view focuses on results that include locations, which are grouped and displayed in a scrollable left pane. The right side features a map with referenced locations marked.

Again, this isn’t as useful as it sounds initially. If you didn’t know that important centers during the Great War included Sarajevo (which is referenced in the results but just out of frame on the map), Munich, Berlin, Paris and London, then this might be useful. Otherwise, generic searches aren’t going to be terribly informative in this view.

And, actually, specific searches weren’t always better: looking for one specific battle, Belleau Wood, yielded map results in Asia, the Americas and Europe. However, you did have the option to refine your search to a narrower location. On the other hand, narrowing “The Great War” to search in Germany yielded the same results as the search without the location.

Info view

google experimental search info view
Touted as “New!”, Info view gives slightly different results in the ten blue links section of the page. But the big difference is the right hand navigation options:
google experimental search info sidebar

Under each option is a menu to allow you to further refine your results:
google experimental search info sidebar expanded

No immediate uses for the “Measurements” option spring to mind. The dates and locations options seem like variations on the other views (without the pretty visualizations those views include). Each option also changes the snippet displayed for each site, scanning the pages for dates, measurements, locations or images.

However, it fails to find any dates in half of the results and found no locations in 8 of 10. The Wikipedia entry for WWI comes up empty for dates and locations, although I know it has both.

Conclusions

Clearly, it is with good reason that these search views launched in experimental phase first. While they all seem like good ideas, their execution isn’t at the level that I expected, based solely on the names of the search views. However, specific types of queries may yield better results than I found here.