Google is adding some new search filters in the lefthand ‘search options' panel it introduced earlier this year. The new filters enable users to quickly sift through the ‘haystack' returned by the default search to find the proverbial ‘needle' more efficiently.
Users have been able to view search results by category for a given query for some time using the links at the top of the Google search page. Conduct a search on "Tony Bradley" and the default search displays results from the Web. Clicking on Images, Maps, News, etc. across the top will redirect you to the different Google sites for those categories and display the search results for that same query.
That is certainly more efficient than simply scrolling through page after page (after page) of Google search results checking link after link until you find what you are interested in. However, filtering results this way is a bit clunky and does not provide a consistent look and feel for the user.
This year has seen a number of innovations in search. We have Microsoft to thank for bringing Bing into the arena and sparking a new rivalry. Google may have been getting a little complacent with little or no competition in the online search arena. Now Google and Bing keep trading shots to raise the bar on search features.
Bing has the cool feature that displays a brief excerpt from the link when you hover over the search results. I like being able to see what the content is without having to click on each link. I can quickly rule out sites that are irrelevant and not waste my time visiting them to figure that out.
The new Google search options (you have to click on show options at the top of the search results to open the pane) provide even more compelling efficiency though. Google already included a number of options when they rolled the functionality out in May. Last week they added the ability to filter by Books. This week they have continued to tweak the search options functionality, most notably the ability to tweak results by timeframe or view results only from the past hour.
Some of the innovations Google is bringing to the table are not really all that innovative. Conceptually, there isn't that much different between what Google is trying to do now and what Yahoo did almost four years ago with services like Yahoo Mindset and Yahoo Y!Q.
The search options functionality is also a lot like the filters used on sites like Bestbuy.com and Amazon.com to enable users to filter shopping results and find the product they're looking for. I can search Bestbuy.com for ‘LCD TV', then filter the results by screen size, price range, manufacturer, and more to drill down to the subset of TV's that meet my needs. Very similar to what Google is providing for me to drill down through search results.
Google has a lot going on these days. I am not even referring to its efforts developing platforms like Google Wave, and fighting battles with Google Voice. I mean that Google is sort of throwing pasta at the wall to see what sticks just in terms of improving search engine functionality.
Last week Google unveiled "Jump To" to allow users to jump directly to the content relevant to the search rather than forcing the user to sift through the linked site and find it. Google has also introduced its own variation of Twitter's trending topics with the ‘Trends' box displaying hot topics.
Not all search features are created equally. Some are a little frivolous and may ultimately die out. I am glad to see the Google-Bing rivalry driving some innovation and creativity though. Regardless of which search provider, or which search engine features eventually win out, the end user is the ultimate winner no matter who originally thought of the ‘innovation'.
Tony Bradley is an information security and unified communications expert with more than a decade of enterprise IT experience. He tweets as @PCSecurityNews and provides tips, advice and reviews on information security and unified communications technologies on his site at tonybradley.com.