Google and Microsoft both have new search interfaces in beta.
Google is testing a new “green bars” interface to the left of search results, allowing easy linking to search results for the web, images, groups, froogle and local. The green bar is an indication of what appears to be a result count.
Microsoft, through Live.com, is beta testing a new search interface that includes RSS feeds for each search, a much different image search (lots of results thumbnailed) and an “infinite scroll bar” that continues to refresh as you scroll down through results. I’ve written about the new Live.com search here.
Live.com is usable by anyone who visits the site; the new Google search is available only to random users. However, Google Blogoscoped (as well as Digg and Download Squad) have instructions that show how anyone can see the new Google results. Based on this, I’ve had a chance to test Google’s new search interface as well.
In my opinion, both are lacking but for very different reasons. After testing each, Google’s new interface doesn’t seem to actually do much of anything, and Live.com, while inspired, is very poor in actual performance, mostly speed.
Google first. The quick links have been moved from the top of search to the left sidebar. The green bars do communicate total results information, but that’s it. For the majority of searches, the number of results is not important to deciding whether or not to click on the link. All in all, this is a feature that didn’t need to be released outside of internal testing before being scrapped or quietly incorporated. Furthermore, it makes no sense that Google would not incorporate blog search results into the sidebar along with froogle, images, news, etc.
Live.com is a different matter. The image search is excellent in that a very large number of results appear on the screen at one time. There are also more search results than on MSN search, and each search has a RSS feeds that can be added to your Live.com home page with a single click. Finally, the infinite scroll bar is a great way to save clicks to further results pages for deeper searches. But, Live.com has unacceptably slow loading times for searches, and the infinite scroll bar is extremely slow as well. So slow it is effectively unusable.
All in all, Live.com’s effort is much more creative and head turning than what Google seems to be testing. Others might argue, of course, that Google’s clean interface has served them (and us) very well over the years and needs little, if any, tweaks at this time. As Live.com becomes more responsive and faster, it will be interesting to see if people drift away from Google Search and over to Live.com. Either way, Microsoft finds itself in a difficult position – Google controls over 40% of the U.S. search market v. about 15% for Microsoft.