Google Instant: instantly distracted

On: September 11, 2010
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About Philip Man
Technology should be centered around a meaningful experience: understand behaviour not technology, think people instead of device and. Don’t make products, make experiences. Like Huxley said, “to give organizations precedence over persons is to subordinate ends to means.” Technology changes fast, but people do not. The fun part does not happen in the device, but on the road from the screen towards the mind. The challenge is to understand the user’s motivations; what drives him or her, culturally and psychologically? People often don’t know what they want until you show it to them. My main ideas involve developments in new media technology and I am particularly interested in how new media is inherent to new ways of communicating, to what extent that requires and generates new kinds of data and how this can be used to improve relations between people. I like the challenge of difficult problems and to act as an idea catalyst /


A few days ago Google launched its new way of search that promised to be ‘faster than the speed of type’. Instant Search, the new way name, is sort of similar to the earlier search predictions, but this one is on steroids. It is designed to cut off a lot of time users spend on searching, allowing them to spend more time on the results. While users first saw search term predictions, now the results are even displayed instantly while typing. This means that the search results will change with every keystroke and makes Google search a very dynamic experience. Users now can scan search results while typing and don’t have to press enter for results. In effect, search time can be decreased by 2 – 5 seconds per search: that is the new service, now what is the price?

First of all, say goodbye to the static clean look of the Google homepage because it will become a searchpage flashing all different kinds of results with every keystroke. Second, this idea isn’t new. Third, I have always been sceptical on predictions and recommendations systems. On macro-level I believe it will result in cultural decline by recommending an automated menu that is constituted by information of others, creating some kind of tunnel vision for the masses. On micro-level, recommendation systems are developed to actually increase the vision of the user by showing him information he otherwise would not have seen. However, in the search industry it can be argued that it won’t gets you time saved but instead adds time because it distracts the user from its actual goal. How much time have you lost by clicking on something that you weren’t actually looking for? With Google Instant, the distractions are tenfold.

This new way of search is another attempt of Google to control its users. This already happens by imposing search results as neutral while often they are personalized search results when logged in to your Google account. Another step towards a similar idea of what Deuze and Blanken in their book Pop-up call the ‘metacracy’: where mathematical algorithms make collective intelligence the standard. Where companies such as Google in the future (which is now) know what we want before we actually know what we want. Some say it will make the us stupid and some say it will stimulate our mental activity. Nonetheless, I think I will press the ‘disable Instant Search’-button and continue to believe I have some control when searching on the web.

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