What's Next For Google Search? Two Icons May Hold The Clue

Over time, we’ve scooped things ranging from Facebook Places to various Chrome OS features simply by digging through code put out there in public. What’s great about doing this is that it negates the inevitable non-denial denials from companies when you ask about these features. Code doesn’t lie. Neither do images. And the latter may reveal two upcoming features destined for Google Search.

Check out this image. It’s a file Google uses in conjunction with CSS to style their web results pages. On it, you’ll notice all the major navigational elements currently found on google.com are there — but there are also two extra ones: the question mark and the people icon.

Now, it’s certainly possible that these are simply icons that Google is no longer using in their search navigation but has tested out in the past (they do so many little tests). But I can’t recall ever seeing them, and neither can anyone else I’ve asked. Further, you’ll note that the name of the file is nav_log16.png — Google actually iterates these file names when they make nav changes, so this one is pretty new. If you want to go back in time in the way Google search looked, check out nav_logo7, for example. Or nav_logo3.

So what are the question mark and people icons? Judging from their position, they seem to be destined for the left side bar navigation on Google Search results. Could it be that Google is thinking about re-starting their (since-retired) Google Answers product? Remember, Google bought Q&A service Aardvark earlier this year for $50 million. Might they use it to populate a new Google Questions product?

Between Facebook Questions, Quora, Formspring and others, Q&A is a very hot space right now — and Google’s search box is still undoubtedly the most-used question submission form in the world. It’s a question (see what I did there?) of “when,” not “if” for such a product.

And what about the people icon (which shows two humanoid figures standing next to each other)? Yes, it looks like the MySpace logo, but that probably isn’t what they’re going for. Could this be the first signs of the mythical “Google Me” social reboot project being led by Vic Gundotra?

Or is it just a better way to showcase social circle searches? Currently, those reside at the bottom of search result pages, while status updates from Twitter are found in the “Updates” area (which is the blue chat box logo).

We’ve reached out to Google to get their non-denial denial. But following the launch of Google Instant today, these may be the next things we see from the search giant.

[thanks Sean]