Google gives search a 'Caffeine' boost

Search giant seeks feedback on new search architecture from power users, Web developers

Google Inc. is set to let users try out an upgraded search technology, code-named Caffeine, that its engineers have been developing for the past several months.

Google today announced that it is opening its so-called next-generation architecture to Web developers and power users to test. Users can access the as-yet-unfinished Caffeine in a Google sandbox, a testing environment that isolates new code from production systems.

The announcement that Google is honing a faster, more accurate and more comprehensive search engine comes about two weeks after rivals Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo Inc. announced that they are partnering up to challenge the search giant. The deal calls for Microsoft's Bing search engine to power various Yahoo sites, and Yahoo will sell premium search advertising services for both companies.

Unveiling the test version of its new search technology shortly after the Microsoft-Yahoo announcement will pull some momentum and attention back to Google, said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst at Technology Business Research Inc.

"One interesting thing here is why Google is going public at this point," said Gottheil. "The [search] war tends to be a silent one. Google does not want to imply that earlier versions did not give searchers what they wanted. Until now, improvements were just slipstreamed into the product."

Gottheil added that he figures there are two possible reasons why Google went public with a search update that's not quite ready to be rolled out.

"One, Google has a real breakthrough, and when users compare the standard search engine with the new one, they will be able to see the difference," he said. "The other is that the 'new' engine is just another of Google's ongoing refinements. It is an improvement, but not one that would be noticed without Google pointing it out. But Google wants to tell the world that just as Microsoft appears to be catching up, Google is pulling ahead."

Sitaram Iyer and Matt Cutts, both engineers at Google, noted in a company blog post that they're looking for user feedback on the differences between its current search results and those of the new system. "We're interested in higher-level feedback," they wrote.

They also said that since the new technology is "under the hood," any difference in performance would likely be more apparent to technically savvy users.

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