RIP Google Instant: Tech giant ditches its search predictions tool
Update 27 July 2017: Google Instant is no more.
Following reports that the feature, first introduced in 2010, had been dropped, Google has since confirmed it is ditching the feature because people’s search habits have changed. In a statement to Search Engine Land, a spokesperson said that because more searches are made on mobile, Google Instant is less relevant and useful as it was at launch and Google had decided to remove Google Instant “to focus on ways to make search even faster and more fluid on all devices”.
It appears the feature is still live for us at the time of writing so we’ve contacted Google for clarification.
Alphr’s original story from 2010 continues below
Google has unveiled its new Instant search tool, which predicts what users are looking for as they type search terms.
The widely predicted tool, which was teased in Google Doodles this week, predicts what users are searching for with each letter typed in, much like its Auto Complete system.
However, Google Instant serves up results, changing the entire listing with each letter entered, “providing results in real-time before you even have time to type your query,” said Marissa Meyer, Google’s vice president of search.
In 2000, the idea behind being able to search before it was typed was so far out it was our April Fools Joke
In a demo, typing the letter “w” brought up instant results for weather in San Francisco, where the presentation was held. “It’s not quite psychic, but it is very clever,” said Othar Hansson, search engineering lead.
Google said it wasn’t just faster, but helped users refine what they were looking for by seeing search recommendations immediately, instead of having to hit enter and retype terms if the required results don’t come back.
As searches are automatically returned, Google filters out inappropriate content, so users won’t be caught out typing a term that has a similar start to something offensive.
Google Instant has already rolled out to Google.com and Google UK. It will work with Google’s Chrome, as well as Firefox, Internet Explorer 8 and Apple’s Safari. Google Instant will show up in search boxes in browsers within a few months, Google added.
The system will arrive for Google Mobile later this autumn. “Typing on a phone is just slower, so feedback on mobile is even more useful,” said Hansson.
Meyer said there would be no change in how ads are displayed, but would require users to stay on a page for three seconds before impressions were counted. The same time span would be used for keeping track of users’ history for personalised results.
Google said its users spend an average of nine seconds typing in their queries, and 15 seconds choosing from results. Between those, it takes 400 milliseconds for the search to get to Google, 300 milliseconds for it to be processed by the search giant’s servers, and another 400 miliseconds to return the result.
“We’ve spent a lot of time optimising the 300 milliseconds…really trying to make sure we have search as fast as possible while on our server,” said Meyer. Projects such as the Chrome browser and improving fibre networks may speed up the 400 milliseconds on either side.
“Despite all that emphasis on optimising, a search takes 25 seconds, and all of that focus is all on one of those 25 seconds,” said Meyer.
That leaves the input and results choices as the last place to make speed gains, with Google Instant saving two to five seconds per query, Meyer claimed.
While shaving a few extra seconds from searches may sound unimpressive, Meyer said a billion people use Google each week. “This stat makes Google search one of the most used services – not just internet services – but most used services all over the world,” she said, saying Instant will save as much as 11 man hours for every passing second.
Amusingly, the idea of psychic search occurred to Google a decade ago. “In 2000, the idea behind being able to search before it was typed was so far out it was our April Fools Joke,” said Meyer.