8 Google Instant tips and impressions

Google Instant could be a revolution in Internet navigation. Or it could the 21st Century's Microsoft Clippy. Either way, it's fun to play with. Read on to find out how to get more from the latest from the wizards of Mountain View.

It's localized and personalized. The service weights results in favor of your search history, and searches that are local to you. For example, I live in San Diego, when I type "D" the first search that comes up is the California Department of Motor Vehicles, and "S" gets me "SDG&E," for San Diego Gas & Electric.

Mashed potatoes

Type the Google alphabet. Typing "W" calls up weather as the first result. The whole list for me: Amazon, Bank of America, Craigslist, DMV (California Department of Motor Vehicles), Ebay, Facebook, Gmail, Hotmail, Ikea, Jeromes (a San Diego chain of furniture stores), Kaiser (for Kaiser Permanente), Lowes (the movie theater chain), MySpace, Netflix, Orbitz, Pandora, quotes, REI (outdoor gear retailer), SDG&E, Target (retailer), USPS (United States Postal Service), Verizon, Weather, Xbox.com, Yahoo, Zillow.

I get the same results whether I'm logged in or not, with private browsing switched on in Firefox, with cookies cleared, and with permission revoked for Google to use my location (which is actually a little disturbing -- why is Google still showing me search results for the local power company and furniture store if it's not supposed to know who or where I am?).

Use keyboard shortcuts. Speed up searches by using the up and down arrows to scroll, tab to complete, right-arrow for "feeling lucky," and "enter" or "escape" to just search on the text you typed.

It's like a command line for the Internet. Combine abbreviations with keyboard shortcuts to navigate even faster. For example, let's say you want to visit Facebook. Enter the letter "f," down-arrow to the first search term, right-arrow to "I'm feeling lucky," and you're on your way. Similarly, for Microsoft.com, type m-i-c, down-arrow twice, right-arrow, and you're there.

Sanitized for your protection.

Sanitized for your protection. It tries to filter out results that are NSFW (not safe for work). Searches on the F-word, the N-word, and the word "porn" all come up blank. This is to prevent nasty surprises when your boss or darling niece or nephew are looking over your shoulder. You can still search on those words normally.

It's a PR win for Google. Late last month, Yahoo and Microsoft combined their search operations to take on Google. With instant search, Google fights back.

It isn't where it needs to be -- yet. Power-searchers tend to search from the browser search box or Google Toolbar, and Instant isn't available there. It only works on the Google home page.

Saving individual characters typed isn't a big deal on the desktop. Most of us type fast enough. Mobile devices are the places where every single character counts, and Google Instant isn't on those devices either.

Also, Google TV. Typing on TiVo is torture, and I expect it'll be the same for Google TV. It would be a huge win if Instant comes to Google TV, and it's ideally suited for the kinds of searches we do when we search for TV shows and movies, Wired's Tim Carmody notes.

Google Instant won't save any significant amount of time. Google's Marissa Mayer said at the event that the primary benefit of Google Instant is time saved. "Our testing has shown that Google Instant saves the average searcher 2 to 5 seconds per search. That may not seem like a lot at first, but it adds up," she said.

No, it doesn't. Time doesn't work that way. Add up a million 2-5 second increments and you still have a million 2-5 second increments. You can blow your nose in that amount of time, but that's about all you'll get done.

Even if Google search is faster, it requires users to learn a whole new way of searching, which will slow them down at least at first.

On the other hand, it's fun to use, so it might be a coup for Google for that reason alone.

"Sanitized for your protection" photo by pboyd04 on Flickr.

Mitch Wagner

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is a freelance technology journalist and social media strategist.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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