Google is testing a new page format for its general Web search results that lets users significantly expand the content provided below Web site links.
The new format gives users the option of viewing much more text than the usual line or two that Google now runs below each Web site link it returns after a query. Some of the results also include a photo from the Web site, something Google does on its other search services, such as Google News.
The expanded results also include a search box to let the user run a query against a specific Web site. In addition, it offers links to other Web sites that are topically related to the ones on the results list.
The CyberNet technology news blog has several screen shots of the new results page.
This test results page seems to fit the description of a new search engine technology called Orion that Google recently acknowledged having acquired months ago from the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. Orion reportedly increases the amount of information available to users on a results page, precisely to help them determine whether they want to navigate to the Web sites listed.
The screen shots on CyberNet are legitimate, and the test is one in a series of trials that Google routinely conducts with a relatively small sample of its users "to evaluate better ways to search," a Google spokesperson wrote in an e-mail. "We are currently testing new ways to refine searches such as the ones you see in these screenshots. There's no set schedule when we'll roll out these sorts of new ideas, if ever, but these tests help us improve the overall search experience," she wrote.
The spokesperson didn't immediately respond to a question sent via e-mail as to whether the Orion technology is being used in this test results page.
Competition is fierce among search engines to provide a better search experience, as it is widely acknowledged that the traditional approach of delivering thousands of Web site links isn't necessarily the most convenient way of solving a query.
Along these lines, search engine operators such as Google, Yahoo, and Ask.com are all testing and implementing features to help users refine queries, filter long lists of results, and obtain concrete answers and data within the search results page without necessarily having to navigate away from it to individual Web sites.
While Google remains by far the most popular search engine, user loyalty is unpredictable, since trying out different search engines is extremely easy for users in contrast to switching among other types of online services, such as instant messaging and e-mail, which can be more inconvenient and time-consuming.
In addition, whether Web site publishers would approve of Google's significantly increasing the amount of content it scrapes from their Web pages and shows to users would remain to be seen. The practice of reproducing text and images from Web pages in search results is controversial, and has led to lawsuits against Google.