Two doubts about Google Instant

Speed? Accuracy? Not so much, but occasionally amusing.

Google managed to turn a few heads when it announced its new Instant search last week. Mine was one of them.

The service, which displays results as soon as the first letter is entered and updated with each additional letter, sounded promising. Like everybody else on the internet, I gave it a try.

Like many people, I'm not quite sure what to think at this point. On one hand, Google Instant is an awful lot like my instant queue on Netflix: convenient, time-saving (when my internet connection is A-OK) and it gets the job done. On the other, it's kind of like quick oats: passable but "old fashioned" is always the preferred choice.

I'm not going to say that instant is just a gimmick. I see promise but, I'm not going to go out of my way to use Google's new flavor.

Here's why:

Google doesn't know what I'm thinking.

The first thing I tried after hearing about Instant was searching for my local newspaper in Vancouver, Washington -- The Columbian. I typed "C" and got Craigslist. Adding an "O" gave me Costco. (At this point I was convinced Google didn't have the psychic thing down just yet.) I added an "L" and got ten results for Columbia Credit Union (a local credit union in the Vancouver area) and nothing on the local paper (a sign of the times, perhaps?). I didn't find what I was looking for until the complete word "columbia" was in the search bar.

Google Instant saved me one keystroke. Not only that, it probably cost me time to look through its suggested results for "C" through "A."

The page with ten results for Columbia Credit Union got me thinking: It'd be pretty slick if Google organized Instant results categorically like its News service. Instead of ten results about the same thing, there could be ten different results with news, official websites, and maps for each item.

But back to the search at hand.

I've heard the service will take note of what I'm searching for, but haven't noticed the newspaper come up higher on my search results after ignoring everything before "columbia" for three days straight.

I don't care what other people click on.

Typing "college" in instant brought me to College Humor's website.

Entertaining? Yes. Useful? Not so much.

A traditional Google search brings me to a page with College Board, Wikipedia's entry for college, an IMDB page for the 2008 movie "College," and a Google Maps view of seven colleges near my home. Seems to me the traditional search -- especially because of the the mapped results -- is far more useful than a joke website and a link to one of its videos called "The Matrix Runs on Windows."

Sure, more people are probably going to hit College Humor than any one of these other sites, but that doesn't mean that I want to.

I don't mean to be harsh on the Google. I think that its new trick has a lot of potential, especially if it starts keeping tabs on my search behavior and consistently delivering stuff I'll find useful. I'm just not sure I'm ready to forget about pressing the good ol' Enter key at the end of every query I make on Google's site.

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Paul Suarez

PC World (US online)
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