Google upgrades Instant with keyboard navigation

Google is also expanding the availability of Instant to 12 new countries

Google's Instant, a new feature that predicts search queries as people type them and refreshes results and ads accordingly on the fly, will be extended to 12 new countries, bringing the total to 19 countries.

Instant is also gaining keyboard navigation capabilities, which let users move among search results and back into the search box for query refinements without having to reach for their mouse.

Marissa Mayer, Google's vice president of search products and user experience, made the announcement on Wednesday at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco, which is being webcast.

The domain expansion and the new features will be rolled out over the coming days. That Google is giving the technology a boost like this so quickly could indicate the company has been happy with its adoption.

When Instant launched earlier this month, some industry observers wondered whether the user experience would confuse and turn off users. Instead, Instant has proven very popular and is meeting its goal of speeding up the process of crafting queries and choosing results and ads to click on, Mayer said.

Google has so far found that Instant shaves off between 2 and 5 seconds from this process, which adds up considerably over time for people who do a lot of searches, Mayer said. For example, Mayer estimates Instant will save her about 35 hours per year.

Google calls Instant "search before you type" due to its combination of query prediction with the ability to refresh in real-time search results and their accompanying ads. "That's what makes it really powerful and innovative," Mayer said.

Instant is also being added as a search service option to the left-hand menu in Google's search results page.

The new countries getting access to Instant are Austria, Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Ireland, Mexico, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland and Ukraine. Users in those countries need to be signed into their Google accounts to use Instant, something that isn't the case in the U.S.

Mayer, who answered questions on stage from TechCrunch founder and co-editor Michael Arrington and from audience members, got queried several times about Orkut, the Google social network that was launched at around the same time as market leader Facebook but that has never become dominant.

Orkut suffered from a quick spike in usage shortly after launching, and Google didn't scale its infrastructure, so that made it unpopular in the U.S., she said. However, it is a leading social-networking site in Brazil and India, she said.

Asked whether Google considers Facebook a search competitor today, Mayer answered that "it's hard to say." She did concede that Google is concerned that a lot of Facebook's content is "locked away" and hard to find, even for members whose privacy settings give them access to it.

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