Google rolls out tool that suggests search queries

Four years in development, Google Suggest can better formulate queries, cut spelling errors

After more than four years in development, a new feature that suggests queries as letters and words are typed into Google Inc.'s search engine is being rolled out over the next week.

Google Suggest, which the company began developing in 2004, aims to help users better formulate queries, reduce spelling errors and save keystrokes, Google noted in a blog post yesterday.

"We find that by providing suggestions upfront, we can help people search more efficiently and conveniently," noted Jennifer Liu, a product manager at Google. "Instead of just typing 'hotels in Washington' did you want 'hotels in Washington, D.C.' or 'hotels in Washington state'? Don't remember that song title or person's name? Let Google help you search."

The new feature, created by developers at Google Labs, will also automatically correct typos and misspelled words ahead of time, eliminating the need for Google's "Did you mean?" feature. The feature will also save time by eliminating keystrokes because Google Suggest starts searching for likely query terms before a person finishes typing the words, Liu added.

While Google Suggest is now being made available on Google.com, it had also been available earlier via Google Labs, Toolbar, Maps and Web Search, the Firefox search bar, the iPhone, the BlackBerry and YouTube.

Google Suggest does not base its suggestions on the personal searches of users, although it does use information about the relative popularity of common searches to rank its suggestions, Google noted. Google Suggest searches are covered under Google's privacy policy, the company added.

Danny Sullivan, a blogger at Search Engine Land, noted that the new tool's suggestions come from looking in aggregate at Google searches. Next to each suggestion, he noted, Google provides the number of Google results that match the suggestion.

"I've always found that odd -- I'd rather Google show some metric related to how popular that suggested query is, since that's the basis of why you're being shown these words," he noted. He also urged users to also peruse Yahoo Inc.'s similar Search Assist tool, which rolled out in October.

"It offers a more sophisticated query suggestion tool," Sullivan added. "Over at [Microsoft's] Live Search, you don't get query suggestions when typing in the search box. But they will show 'Related Searches' links in the top right-hand corner of search results, in some cases."

To use Google Suggest, users must use Internet Explorer 6.0 (or newer), Netscape 7.1 (or newer), Mozilla 1.4 (or newer), Firefox 0.8 (or newer), Opera 7.54 (or newer), or Safari 1.2.2 (or newer) and have JavaScript and cookies enabled.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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