Google Instant. Yup, those are the right two words.

Under slightly different circumstances, I might have been in San Francisco today, attending Google’s big press event. I also might have proven the existence of God. Neither thing seems to have happened.

See, due to a last-minute change in aircraft, my flight home from Chicago was overbooked and American enticed me to give up my seat in exchange for a seat on another flight two hours later and a $400 flight voucher. If they’d actually needed my seat and I found myself holding a free ticket to anywhere I wanted to go, then the invitation from Google that arrived the next day would have felt like the hand of Divine Providence; surely, I would have been thwarting a Higher Power if I’d stayed home.

I’ve skimmed through the Old Testament. I’ve read enough to know that things rarely work out well for the Thwarter.

So: An unexpected free ticket to San Francisco plus an unexpected press event on the other coast in a few days plus a Google event that left me thinking “I have been present at the place and time when it all changed; all of it, for everybody, and forever” would clearly have equaled “Proof of God’s existence.” I think we’re all in agreement, here.

As it was, American Airlines didn’t need my seat. I didn’t go to San Francisco. Instead, I watched the Google event from my sofa, via a live stream. And frankly, Google’s big announcement wasn’t anything that couldn’t have been completely summed up in four paragraphs of text and a link to a live demo.

Which isn’t to say that Google Instant — the big announcement — isn’t great stuff. Go ahead and try it right now: visit directly and start typing in a search. The Search box tries to predict what you’re about to search for and pre-populates the page with the most likely results.

Other guesses fill a dropdown list. If the right answer is on the list, just arrow down and the page will interactively repopulate to reflect each set of results. Or keep typing.

It’s very good. You can eyeball the search results as you type, stopping when you see the information you want. Two seconds after you try it, you’ll appreciate what a timesaver this will be.

Final tech details: Instant works with Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Explorer 8. Support for mobile devices, and integration into browsers’ built-in Search boxes is coming in the next few months.

I’ve just written four short paragraphs. This, and the command “Go to and see it in action” will truly cover it.

Wait…bonus commentary:

The event ends with a Bob Dylan-themed commercial for Google Instant. Which left me wondering why they were taking such an Apple-ish approach to this. Apple saturates the airwaves with iPad ads because they want to sell iPads. Why does Google even care?

I think part of it is the fact that search boxes within browsers are steering people away from the Google search page. Google isn’t thought of as a product built by a company but as a service or a standard, like HTML5 or yelling “*@&# you, you *@&#ing mother*@&#er!!!!” to get a computer to unfreeze. Features that get users to see the Google logo at the top of a page will benefit the company; it prevents Google from becoming “Band-Aid”ed or “Q-Tip”ped, where their software loses value in the popular consciousness.

Okay. End of aside. Done.

So you see what I mean about the God question. Seen one way, this was just a random sequence of events. Seen another way, God wasn’t about to prevent me from flying to San Francisco today but in His divine wisdom He knew that His aid would be better applied elsewhere.

Call this one a theological tie. It’s an
interesting data point, but hardly enough to justify renting a bulldozer and pulling down the famous giant bronze statue of Richard Dawkins that glares smugly down to thousands of commuters from its plinth in Victoria Station.

15 thoughts on “Google Instant. Yup, those are the right two words.

  1. Chris P.

    Shaking my head up and down. I totally agree that they needlessly went on and on about Instant. I guess the nerds needed to know how it worked behind the scenes. But it wad a mixed message. They were trying to talk to the engineers and the average user at the same time. However the ones talking were engineers.

    That aside, Google Instant will keep me using Google as my search engine. It really is a big advancement that’s useful to everyone.

    The question is what will Bing do in response?

  2. Gary Ashton

    Hey Andy,
    just wanted to point out that you have to be logged in to your Google account for the instant search to work. People just going to Google won’t see the application working for the general public just yet :)

    The down side is of being logged in to me is that it distorts the organic results because of previous searches too…but so far I like the Instant search results.


    Gary :)

  3. brian

    I look at my Google use over the last 3 months and compare it to a time before apps on the iPhone and joining Facebook and Twitter. I use to look up everything on it, now probably less than 30%. This is Google pleading for me to come back. Instant will certainly be more efficient and convenient, but not enough to get the majority of my search business back.

    BTW, if Apple comes up with their own integrated Map App, Google looses another 20% of my search business.

  4. Tom Strong

    I don’t see what the big deal is about possibly shaving 2 seconds off a search. Is that something to get excited about?

  5. Fernando

    I don’t get it. Hasn’t Google search from their homepage been offering up suggestions for a long time now? The only difference between today and yesterday is the inclusion of blue rectangle at the bottom of the drop down list proclaiming euphoria. Nothing new to see here, folks

  6. logopetria

    They’ve offered suggested search terms, yes, but now they’re also offering the search results to go with those suggestions as well. To me, the most impressive thing is that it can be done at all.

  7. John Holderried

    The correct term for what Band-Aids and Q-Tips (and aspirin, and xeroxes, and the thermos and the escalator…) became is a genericized trademark. Or a proprietary eponym if you want to talk like a reporter from the 1920’s.

    Google has already failed to prevent this from happening – “well, just Google it” has become synonymous with “well, just do an internet search for it”. And that’s the test.

  8. Kafka's Vault

    I still remember Bob Dylan: the Musical and and the Bob Dylan Christmas album, so I wouldn’t put it past him to release a 14 hour concept album Bob Dylan: Plays The Arse Trumpet if he thought he might make a few bucks.

    As for Google, I don’t see the times a changin’ that much. Used it and I’m not that overawed. It doesn’t solve that many search problems that all engines suffer.

  9. Brad connell

    I think the Dylan ad was an attempt to create a meme, to entice people to make their own versions. I’ve already seen one with a song about the periodic table of elements. They did a similar thing with the ‘Parisian Love’ superbowl ad series.

  10. John Baxter

    It’s amusing that Google is trying to pull us back to their search page from the browser search boxes. They paid the browser makers (Chrome’s maker aside) for those boxes in the first place.

  11. Rusty Grizwald

    The Google Instant release is akin to Coke a Cola’s move back in 1985 when they released “New Coke”. By tweaking the formula slightly they created a buzz and got lots of press. Unfortunately it was still Coke (just slightly different) and this new Google search is just that (slightly different) but it’s still Google.

    Funny side note: I’ve “heard” if you type an adult related search term, Google Instant, instantly becomes Google mute and stops making suggestions :)

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