Google has announced an understated site redesign which has completely changed the way results are delivered to Internet users. It now provides a list of hits compiled from searches of its subsections, which it has dubbed universal search.
In some ways, this is an old school technique. But applying this old methodology to a search engine the size of Google is quite novel. So let’s quickly look at some history.
One of my favourite search engines from before the dot com crash was the metasearch engine Metacrawler
-- although I feel it returns too many ads from shopping services now. Rather than building its own database by crawling the web, it simply sends a search string to many search engines and then compiles the results.
Google is doing the same thing with its universal search; in that it now searches for hits from across different Google services and compiles the results from these searches into a single page of hits ranked with Google’s own algorithms.
This new style puts it in line with alternatives from Yahoo!7, in that multiple content sources are delivered to the searcher. But perhaps the most important benefit of the redesign is the exposure of people who are less proficient with search engines to the specialised searches Google has offered for years. It’s fair to say that they are underutilised and are eclipsed by the simplicity offered by Google’s single click search results.
Ideally, users who have previously ignored Google’s specialised search options -- such as financial, image, patent, book and other results -- will be tempted to delve deeper into specialised search fields thanks to the mixed media results. And if they choose not to, they will still have a broader spectrum of results to choose from.
There is a potential problem though. Whenever you query multiple databases you run the risk of adding more garbage to the results, which became the fate of Metacrawler. The hurdle that I am most interested in seeing Google clear is keeping hits from its universal search relevant. Will Google’s mass appeal help surfers who have taken a scattergun approach to searching see a more focused light?
Only time will tell.