Google search isn’t just search anymore

I know I’m a bit lot late to the table with this, but Google search isn’t restricted to just searching anymore!  They’ve introduced some browsing tools as well (see the video below for more):

Now, it’s easy to figure out that I am very pro-browsing, and therefore I think it’s great that Google has included these things into their search experience, but I’d like to unpack just why I think browsing is such a good thing (and make a couple of suggestions for extensions of what Google is doing) along the way.

Google has been very pro-search as an information organisation and finding strategy for a long time, their search-don’t-sort appraoch to gmail being one obvious example of this.  It’s completely understandable that this has been Google’s whole approach for so long, after all, search is what they do (and they do it very well).

Search isn’t always the answer though (and if you watch this video of a Google user experience researcher talking about the search options, it is evident that Google knows that).  For one things, humans employ more than just search in their information seeking strategies: the research (PDF) shows that information seeking is generally an interative process that includes searching, browsing, and refinement.  Not only is search not the only approach we use for finding information, but sometimes search isn’t enough on its own: with all the information on the web, it can be hard to know when someone types ‘Placebo’ into a search box whether they want to know about the psychological effects of sugar pills, or whether they’re interested in the British based rock band (this ambiguity applies to any number of terms). Similarly, information seekers may want a particular type of information (for example reviews, or places where a product can be bought), or information from a particular geographic location, time or author, or general subject field.  Also, even with known-item searches (those where the searcher knows exactly what they are looking for, and that it exists somewhere, because they have found a pointer to it or seen it) if the searcher doesn’t remember the exact words that occur in the document, they might not find what they are looking for.

Google’s ‘more search options’ are beginning to deal with this problem.  They allow people to find three specific types of content (reviews, forums and video), they provide suggested search terms, they allow the user to look at results from a specific time, and also see how the search terms popularity has changed over time.  I’m not entirely sure what value the ‘wonder wheel (see below)’ adds, given that the related search terms provide all the wonder wheel terms and more, but  I suppose some people may find the visual presentation useful.

Google's wonder wheel, a visual display of related search termsIt certainly is heartening, for someone as vested in browsing as I am, to see Google incorporating browsing into their search.  All I want now is to see it expanded:  I want to filter news by topic and country (and standard search results for that matter); when I use Scholar, I want to be able to browse by author or year.  What Google has provided is an excellent start, and I look forward to seeing where this goes in the future.


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